Seeking Solace in Art – The New York Times

With the New York charity circuit on hiatus, here is how some philanthropists and society figures are spending their time and resources during the pandemic.

Age: 67

Occupation: director, Whitney Museum of American Art

Favorite charities: American Academy in Rome; Storm King Art Center; Coalition for the Homeless; N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund

Where have you been staying?

I’ve spent most of the time with my wife and our college-age daughter in our apartment in Manhattan, way up, way east, on the Upper East Side.

How do you boost your spirits?

I cook regularly; it adds texture to my life. I take mini trips on Saturdays: to the Dia Foundation, the Thomas Cole House. These are almost like school fields trips. Reading fiction is my greatest pleasure. I’m reading “The Freedom Artist” by Ben Okri; it seems he wrote it for this moment. And “The Hungry Tide”; it brings me all the colors, the spices, the smells, the feelings of community of India. I’ve been going to the galleries. It’s a great way of finding connection.

What’s been lost?

I miss the serendipity of bumping into people, crossing paths in a spontaneous way. Some of our best conversations used to take place in an elevator or on our way out the door. Those random things that are the fabric of our lives are so greatly diminished.

Do you compensate virtually?

The computer screen has no texture. Our lives have no texture. That is why we’re so drawn to cooking and eating right now. Those things bring smells, texture and physicality into our lives. That feeling of baking bread, of turning over the dough, that doesn’t happen on a screen.

Does visiting a museum restore some of that sensation?

It can. Our attendance is pretty strong. I find people come because they feel they can be safe, but also be with other people again, even if they are standing 15 or 20 feet away.

You once remarked that a museum cannot right all the ills of an unjust world. Do you stand by that?

I believe much of what happens, happens through the art itself, through the voices of the artists. “Day’s End,” our big public art project with David Hammons, will appear in May. It is an open structure, a ghost version of a pier shed that used to exist on the Hudson. In many ways, it is an aspirational project, about reparations. It’s symbolic of the resilience of New York. For me it is about the healing of a city and a country that have been battered.

Age: 63

Occupation: visual artist

Favorite charity: Center for Human Rights in Iran

Where have you been sheltering?

Since March I’ve been in upstate New York with my husband, Shoja Azari. He is a filmmaker and visual artist. We have a little place in the Adirondacks. For the first time, I have gotten to see all the four seasons outdoors. It was beautiful to be in the arms of nature at this very horrifying time.

Have there been other positive aspects to seclusion?

Before the pandemic I was always out at dinner galas, exhibitions. Now something has changed in me. When I go out, I just want to rush back home. I feel safer at home. I feel very content. We read more, go for walks with our dog — he’s a chocolate Lab. We enjoy sitting down and eating meals together, which we never did. The pandemic has brought us solitude, as well as time together and moments of reflection.

But you haven’t stopped working. Tell us about your new show at the Gladstone Gallery in New York.

This was an important year for me as an artist, a productive one. I had to let go of my usual rituals. I learned to use my iPhone to make small photographs. Until now, all of my work has been about Iran or other Middle Eastern countries. This year, for the first time, I decided to turn my lens on America. My idea was to capture images of Americans, to show an immigrant’s perspective about this country, the good and the bad. I will give a personal tour of the show at a LongHouse Reserve benefit next month.

Where did you find your subjects?

We traveled in the Navajo Nation in Farmington, New Mexico. I focused on Native Americans who have been violated, treated poorly. As a Muslim, I was able to identify with that trajectory. It was very emotional for me, as an immigrant, to be able to go into center of America and understand how much anxiety there is. This work is really a conversation about the anxiety that people share.

Were there other highlights?

We made a movie, “Land of Dreams,” with Isabella Rossellini, Matt Dillon and Sheila Vand. That I finished my film during a pandemic is a miracle. I take a lot of pride in having used this very difficult moment to make a new body of work.

Where have you been sheltering?

I’ve been in Warwickshire, England, at the farm where my horses stay. We were able to ride every day. We had some great times getting back to basics, setting up different exercises, spending time with my trainer, the veterinarians and the farriers, the people who shoe the horses.

Tell us about your horses.

They’re like my children. I have five; one is retired. They have their own personalities. Part of the silver lining of being in lockdown is that you form a relationship. It’s like having a friend and a teammate. You need that physical and emotional bond with this animal that is carrying you over the jumps.

Have you been back to New York?

My main residence is in England. But after 11 months away, I made it back for Thanksgiving. I’ve been spending time with my family, seeing my mother in Cambridge, Mass., my father in upstate New York, and all of the people I love.

You were a fashion designer. And now?

I closed my fashion business a couple of years ago. But I still love the industry. I recently signed with a modeling agency. I love working on photo shoots and being part of the creative process.

Describe your style.

My own style is streamlined. There will be a time for glamour again, but for now I’ve pared-down, buying less and looking for quality.

Has there been time for dating?

My marriage ended two years ago. It’s been healing being single. But a few months ago, Enes Kanter — he plays for the Portland Trail Blazers — reached out to me through Instagram. About two months ago I kind of accepted his advances. He can’t travel while he’s playing, but I visit him in Portland. He says that I’m grounded and joyful.

How else are you spending your downtime?

I’m a total homebody. I love listening to music after my workday. I make playlists on Spotify. I’ve spent some time crafting, embellishing mirrors. These are simple things. But I’ve found that I like being simple and girlie.

Interviews have been edited for space and clarity.

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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

I have 26 years of experience as a professional writer and editor and have been working as a full time freelancer since 2011. I am originally from Casablanca, Morocco, and I graduated from Qatar University with a degree in journalism. I have worked for newspapers, magazines, news agencies, websites. I speak fluent Arabic, French, English, Russian and Spanish.

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