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As Covid-19 continues to make its mark on the world, an important new exhibition is launching in Saudi Arabia. At the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture – or Ithra – in Saudi Arabia, the Covid-19 Exhibit will display a collection of thoughts and memories of the pandemic from people across the globe.
This exhibition is an opportunity for everyone in the global community to tell their stories during a difficult time, but one which also has the potential to be an unprecedented moment of global solidarity.
“Art is about connecting people through culture,” says the exhibit’s curator Laila Al Faddagh, Head of Museums. “And culture is based on the exchange of ideas and identities. But we connect even more easily through common objects.”
It is the familiarity of these common objects that resonate with individuals, and make this innovative exhibition so powerful. We all understand the value of everyday objects such as family photos, a special mug, a note from a friend, or a favourite jumper: it’s not hard to see why items like these might be treasured. And in a time of crisis, such unassuming things can become even more important.
Launching on June 28, 2020, the Covid-19 Exhibit begins as a virtual experience, where online visitors can explore objects that have had particular significance to other ordinary people during the pandemic. By collecting together everyday items, the show provides new perspectives on the effects of Covid-19 on ourselves and our relationships with familiar objects.
The exhibit documents a significant event in history, acting as a reminder of our perspective on life during a time of crisis. The world has changed during the pandemic: many of us have seen the value of less materialistic perspectives, becoming more focused on simpler, more important things such as home, family and health. Important lessons, perhaps even social or scientific insights, could be learned from a record of such change.
The exhibition will include items from around the world, which means they can be used to compare the perceptions and responses that both divide people and bring them together. The show will encourage its international visitors to discuss the artefacts. Different cultures will be connected, creating an opportunity to inspire empathy and understanding across borders.
To fulfil its potential, the exhibition is gathering submissions from around the globe. Anyone can contribute. What have you become most attached to during the pandemic? A teddy bear, a new garden spade, a subscription to a magazine? Or perhaps it’s something you have created: a painting or photograph, a poem or a song? The exhibit is a forum for creativity and self-expression for everyone.
Ithra is a leading centre for global culture. The show includes a wide variety of items that people from around the world are sending in. “In the spirit of welcome, warmth and empathy, especially now during the pandemic, it is an opportunity to connect with everyone, from anywhere,” says Laila Al Faddagh.
The exhibit will initially take place online, and will include a number of innovative interactions for visitors. There will be online discussions of the artefacts and a chance to question some of their owners about their choices. Visitors will be able to document their reactions to the show and to individual exhibits. The more technically minded could even set up a videoconferencing call with a friend and create a selfie video of their exploration of the show.
Visitors will also be able to do their own curation, “collecting” favourite items and comparing similar artefacts from around the world, from mugs and jumpers to agricultural implements and high-tech tools.
While touching items won’t be possible of course, there will be several ways to interact with them online, such as zooming in, “walking round” items, or analysing text. And while many of these activities will be aimed at adults, there will be many opportunities for younger visitors to have fun and create their own memories of their visit.
During 2021 the show will add a physical dimension, with a display at Ithra in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The museum’s curators, working alongside popular votes, will select items from the online exhibit for display including many physical artefacts. This will give visitors a chance to touch, as well as see and hear, items.
There is an opportunity for more surprises: items that suddenly pop up unexpectedly, and tours of the exhibit based perhaps on your preferences or your demographics (or, in these days of Covid-19 safety, the relative popularity of the different rooms). There will be a chance to interact with online visitors and perhaps even broadcast your own feelings about the show.
The physical exhibition will also be open to remote viewers who will be able to participate in their own online tours of the items, albeit without the ability to touch them or experience them in the magnificent surroundings of Ithra.
We have to hope that the pandemic will not be with us for ever, but either way, the exhibit will have to close at some stage. And what will happen then to the items on display? To some extent that will depend on what happens in the world. But lessons from the show about people’s hopes and fears, and the strategies they use to cope with crisis, will be shared. The show may even become a template for other exhibitions designed to explain how people react to and cope with disruptive change, whether it is negative or positive.
The Covid-19 exhibit is a platform where we can all express ourselves and describe our experience of the pandemic. At the same time, we will be able to connect with people who are also experiencing it in other countries. It’s an opportunity to express empathy, share ideas for coping and perhaps become a little more united. Few good things will come from the pandemic, but perhaps this will be one of them.
Ithra wants to hear about items that have had special significance for you during the pandemic. Please submit your stories, photographs, videos or audio recordings and the curators will try to include as many as possible in the exhibition.
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