New virtual Dittmar exhibit documents a year of COVID-19 through art


Photos courtesy of Marcia Babler

Pieces from Marcia Babler’s virtual exhibit, called “A Year of Creative Confinement.” “In Our Time” on the top left, “Bruised” on the left, “Cup of Kindness” on the top right, “Re-Boot” on the bottom middle, and “In This Together” on the bottom right.

Kim Jao, Reporter

Personal quarantine experiences, societal turning points and an overwhelming sense of isolation resonate through “A Year of Creative Confinement,” artist Marcia Babler’s (Weinberg ’75) collection of 48 visual metaphors.

Babler said she came up with the idea for the virtual exhibit when she realized the pandemic-related dialogue in her art groups needed to be documented. Much like the pandemic itself, she said she was uncertain how long her project would run, but decided to follow “wherever the creative energy went.”

“There’s a power to visual depictions of events, and I think people really relate to visual things,” Babler said. “And that goes into the power of art to document and to communicate and to provide lessons for ourselves to reflect on.”

Babler is a professional artist with numerous works that have been accepted by curators, educators and gallery owners around the world.

Writing program lecturer Ellen Wright said she appreciates Babler’s compelling ability to connect thinking with the visual experience and create images that are appealing, both visually and intellectually.” 

The exhibit is divided into 12 sections, starting with July 2020 and ending in June. Each month has a central theme — for example, August 2020 is entitled “Back to School?” and explores uncertainty surrounding the return to school. January is entitled “Re-Boot” to reflect new beginnings and vaccine developments. 

For Babler, the pandemic consolidated her belief in art as a method of documenting life and learning lessons.

Babler began the creative process of each piece with observation, drawing sketches and jotting down notes. She then translated these ideas into a visual form using virtual and physical art mediums. Every section in the exhibit takes on a different style and medium, drawing inspiration from different art movements.

Babler said she sees a parallel between the artistic process and the world’s experiences in isolation. 

“An artist is a problem solver,” Babler said. “You don’t have a clear direction of where things are going, and you have to be open to that direction.” 

To Babler, artists must problem-solve to convey a message using different mediums. 

Beth Shadur, an artist and Prairie State College gallery director and curator, said she sees Babler’s art as interactive.

“I’m very interested in how she creates pieces that communicate, but also allow for the viewer to be actually involved in the communication because the viewer has to really interpret these works,” Shadur said. 

Meg Salzman, Babler’s close friend, said “A Year of Creative Confinement” evokes an overwhelming sense of isolation and portrays the pandemic’s endlessly evolving nature.

She recalled the piece “Ups and Downs,” a distorted fish-eye depiction of endless staircases, and how it encompasses the uncertainty of shared pandemic experiences. 

“We keep pivoting, changing and climbing the stairs of the pandemic, but we don’t know where it’s leading,” Salzman said.

Viewers can access Babler’s virtual exhibit through the Dittmar Gallery website’s homepage until Oct. 25. Viewers can also attend an Oct. 20 Zoom Artist Talk with Babler to hear about her artwork’s influences and discuss the exhibit’s pieces.

Ultimately, Babler said the exhibit offers a unique opportunity for life to come full circle.

“It’s just a real joy for me to have my work on display at my alma mater,” Babler said. “That’s very special to me.”

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