During quarantine, Faten Gaddes doesn’t just use cleaning products to disinfect her home—she poses next to them. In her upcoming series “Postcards from Home,” the Tunisian photographer puts her own twists on the iconic “Keep Calm” posters, evoking irony and humor from life indoors under coronavirus.
The “Postcards from Home” series consists of 16 photos in which Gaddes stages a variety of household items and cleaning products that are keeping us safe by preventing the spread of COVID-19. In one, captioned “Keep Calm and Clean Your Mind,” Gaddes wears a dress made from a white trash bag while holding a vacuum and standing on a spread-out paper towel roll. In another, the artist poses in the background, wearing black gloves and a mixing bowl on her head, with Tylenol boxes, pink latex gloves, antibacterial wet wipes, an assortment of multi-purpose cleaners. In the foreground, a plush Minion wears a face mask.
During the pandemic, Gaddes has chosen to isolate herself from the media and instead, focus on her practice and meditate. “The only time when I have a connection is to take news of my family in Tunisia,” she said. Isolation has enabled Gaddes to see the good side of our current reality, and how being creative doesn’t require a lot of means. For her, just having shelter and the ability to isolate alone is already a luxury. As an artist, she doesn’t perceive confinement as punishment but a potential source of inspiration. “I find that time is slowing down and the objects around me are taking more room, their images are becoming more focused, their colors more bright,” she added.
Faten Gaddes is the third artist to participate in the New York City Safe Haven, a residency program for international artists at risk, which is supported by ArtistSafety.net, Artistic Freedom Initiative, Westbeth Artists Housing, and Residency Unlimited. Gaddes left Tunisia for New York four years ago after a challenging period when her politically charged project “Punching Ball” attracted widespread backlash from the Tunisian media. The project was a boxing ring with four bags in the center, each of which was sewn with a portrait of the artist representing a different identity. “Punching Ball” was first exhibited at the Arab World Institute in Paris, then at the Abdellya Palace in Tunis before being burned in public by a group of radical Islamists.
Last November, Gaddes joined the community of hundreds of other artists in the historic Westbeth building. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, her residency has been extended till August for now. Since everyone is staying inside, Gaddes and many others at Westbeth have volunteered to drop off mail or food for older residents at their doors to minimize contact. “You know most of the resident artists are quite old and have no family,” she said, “so we the ‘youngest’ try to help as much as we can.”
In the meantime, Gaddes will continue working on two other projects, one called “Halwa” and another called “Itinerary,” for which she traveled to Nebraska and South Dakota to document the lives of the Native American community. Post pandemic, Gaddes hopes to visit even more Indian reservations in other U.S. states to complete this project.