Grappling not only with COVID but also with the racial violence roiling the country, Zoë Charlton stopped making art for six months.
“The pandemic and the trauma induced by the media-saturated racial violence arrested my ability to work—I was immobilized,” she says.
Zoë is an artist and tenured professor at American University. For years she has been in constant motion, pursuing an art practice that includes making large-scale figure drawings—often of Black women and incorporating “culturally-loaded objects and landscapes with undressed bodies.”
Her work was relevant to what she calls “The Times,” and yet she stopped producing it.
“I know the importance of the content of the work. But during The Times, did I actually need to be dealing with this content in this way?”
Zoë realized she needed fellowship more than time in her studio. She joined two groups, The Circuit and The Blacksmiths, a coalition of artists, curators, and activists focused on “direct action and civic engagement in the service of Black liberation and equity,” according to its site.
That changed everything for Zoë.
“I experienced a lot of love and catharsis (and continue to) from working with these groups that are intergenerational, multiracial, multiethnic, and interdisciplinary. What put me back into the mental and emotional space to create artwork is that love. Working collectively gave me a way to contribute and put my values to work,” she says.
Zoë’s story of connecting with others at a moment of social crisis speaks to the healing power of community, and the restorative promise of love.