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Quarantine Paintings

Zahrah Ehsan

Curated for The Aleph Review website by Afshan Shafi.

Zahrah Ehsan’s statement accompanying her artwork as part of the Quarantine Artist Residency Project (QARP):

The Quarantine Artist Residency Project (QARP) is an initiative conceived when the world was shutting down due to COVID-19. It became a way to maintain a visual diary for reflecting, creating, and sharing strategies to a growing network of non-EU artists struggling without much government support.

Through writing and visual experiments, I am seeking ways to articulate concerns centring around adaptation issues and identity of an immigrant artist living in Finland. Self-isolation in a foreign land with unsettling mental and financial pressures only adds to other challenges related to moving to a new place. I am reflecting upon these beginnings and archiving these experiments online.

Day 1​: (complete denial) We could see it coming, but not know what. We could inform ourselves with the influx of news and panic, but not take much action. Speculation about the near future was cut short and became our reality within a matter of days.

My first day of quarantine was filled with this joy for not having to burn out, not knowing what was coming ahead of me. I could see it coming, but then was not really sure what it was.

Day 2: ​What is the difference between ‘self-isolation’ and ‘self-quarantine’? What does it mean to ‘self-observe’, ‘self-monitor’, ‘self-care’ and then to ‘self-quarantine’ again to further ‘self-fuck’ ourselves? Let’s plan ahead for a possible quarantine period.

Day 3, 4, 5, 11, 12 ​or perhaps more spent on trying to request student housing associations to give students, especially non-EU/non-Finnish citizens, a kind of house rent relief for the next two months.

A service manager from a student housing association, where I am renting my accommodation from, gets back to my email and suggests that I look into an update on Student Financial Aid benefits during COVID-19 on KELA’s* website. I wish she and her staff would acknowledge that there are many, many students living here that are neither from an EU country nor Finnish. And they are clearly NOT ELIGIBLE TO KELA BENEFITS. KELA was never for us, nor did we expect it to give us any benefits.

*KELA: Social insurance institution of Finland.

Day 6: (diptych drawings) ​Art was never a luxury.

Day 7:​ “I am in the mood to dissolve in the sky” – Virginia Woolf

Day 8: Walks near the Baltic sea.

Day 9: ​Stay home, stay safe. S T A Y H O M E, S T A Y S A F E. #StayHomeStaySafe

Day 10:​ Uusimaa† locking down.

†Uusimaa is a region of Finland.

Day 13:​ Enough with the Virus Talk.

Dad: What is that pink thing in your painting?

Me: The sun? What did you think it was?

Dad: Looks like the virus to me (haha)

Me: Oh! (Lol)

Dad: How are you coping?

Me: Hmm… I go for walks near the sea and the forest and look at the blue sky and the water, as usual. Uff! I sometimes don’t know how to answer such questions.

Dad: Acha, acha! Here you go, speak to your mom. (‘Acha’, means okay/alright in Urdu)

Day 14: ​Forest Tale Afternoon spent with Maria and Emma.

Day 23: ​Stay-at-Home and Wait for Benefits.


Zahrah Ehsan is a visual artist from Pakistan, currently based in Finland studying for her Master’s in Visual Cultures, Curating and Contemporary Arts from Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design and Architecture in Finland. She received her BFA with honours in 2012, with a concentration in painting, from the National College of Arts, Lahore.

Link to the Quarantine Artist Residency Project (QARP):


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