My friend Bonita is a great cook, she can do amazing veggie lasagna. When you taste some you literally feel the flavor of friendship, gratitude on your palate. Just by looking at the plate you can contemplate a sun blending all the colors of all the veggie and the golden cheese that she grilled aside. To me it’s a piece of art that is just beyond delicious. That dish puts you in a light and joyful state of mind.
During the diner, Bonita tells me: “Have you checked what’s going on social media lately? Some people posted racist comments calling for attacking Asian people in France…” I reply: “Seriously? It must be stupid kids trying to gain some attention”. However, digging more on that topic, I started realizing that in some countries the COVID-19 virus was called the “Chinese” virus. What does that mean? I cannot explain it but I can offer a perspective, awkwardly provided by some of the leaders of these countries. What they are trying to say here is quite basic: the whole idea is to simply tell the world that firstly, COVID-19 originated in China and more specifically in Wuhan province; secondly, since the pandemic started to spread from Wuhan to mainland China and finally to the world, “Chinese virus” is a political statement that puts the responsibility of the pandemic on a single country. To be honest, this is a dangerous statement because the language they use can be weaponized to discriminate or attack certain groups of people.
The “Chinese” virus
My friend Claudia is a talented visual merchandiser who works for a luxury brand. In her company she is in charge of designing and executing their boutiques visual strategy for high end products manufactured in Europe and sold in Honk Kong. Given the pandemic situation, tourists no longer visit Hong Kong and the retail business is deeply impacted by both the virus and the protests. Claudia told me that the boutiques used to be full of customers lining up outside and eager to enter the shop and buy tons of garments and accessories. Before COVID-19, business was great, luxury sales were skyrocketing. Now, under the new circumstances of health measures and the economic difficulties encountered by the whole industry, there is no doubt that the luxury/fashion business and Hong Kong’s global economic outlook is really bad. Claudia’s boss told her that her position would be soon terminated because the business was no longer here.
Business is no longer here
Each time I message my friend Alvin I go like: “Hey buddy where are you at?” And most of the time, he replies a few hours later: “Man, I just woke-up, in fact I’m in New York for the weekend, can I call you when I return to Asia? By the way man, I wish you were here!” I have known Alvin for many years. He works for an airline company and his job can get him some great benefits. For example, his company would offer him flight tickets with serious discount; he can travel all the way from Asia to New York, round trip, for a very cheap price in business class. That’s the beauty of working in the airline industry: you can enjoy flying around the world. New York, Helsinki, Bali, Casablanca, those locations are just weekend escape options for Alvin. Unfortunately, these days, more often than none, it’s Alvin who messages me saying: “I’m in town let’s catch-up. I need some positive vibes man”. He told me last time we went for drinks that his company would cut jobs, and he felt that his position was in danger. This has been a stressful situation: nobody know what will happen next. How to pay the rent? Do I have enough savings? Can I rely on family if everything goes sour at work?
Sky is the limit
I went to Bali four years ago with my partner in crime Nicky to join a group of friends for some vacations in South-East Asia. As soon as we landed in Bali, Nicky bought a local SIM card with some data roaming and activated her dating application. By the time we arrived to our villa, she already got a few matches. I just reminded her that we were there to chill with some friends. She replied that she wanted to explore different perspectives from this incredibly beautiful island. She went on a date with a guy she matched with and we barely saw her for the rest of the trip. She was in a romance, she clicked well with her boyfriend and when it was time to leave she said: “I’ll stay a few more days”. After an extended trip she retuned to Amsterdam and started a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend who was still in Bali. Every vacation she had, she would fly to Bali to nurture her relationship. After three years spent between Amsterdam and Bali, they decided to get engaged. I was so happy because I was there when this whole romance started a few years back and I was thinking I should get ready to be their best man. In fact, the weeding was scheduled to take place in Bali in April 2020. Nicky’s family and friends were all exciting to attend this lifetime moment of love and joy on the island. When the outbreak of COVID-19 started in January 2020 I could have never imagined that a few months later all flights to Bali would be suspended because of the pandemic. The wedding was cancelled, no one flew over, Nicky has been depressed in Amsterdam while her fiancé is currently stuck in Bali trying to get a tourist visa to eventually come to marry her in the Netherlands.
From Bali with love
I’m pretty sure we all tell stories around us whereby our little or big life projects have been hijacked by the pandemic. The COVID-19 situation is an unprecedented event for the entire world and everyone is impacted one way or another. This pandemic is a nightmare: the death toll is showing us that we are not so invincible and we should reconsider our relationship to hygiene to protect the others and also ourselves. The death toll shows us as well that our trust in our leaders to handle the situation may have been misplaced. Finally, this pandemic puts us in difficult times, a moment of humbleness in which we realize everything what we take for granted: our lifestyle, our way to care about others and ourselves.
I’m neither a scientist nor an expert in immunology or any other medical field, but it is easy to understand that viruses are contagious: viruses are very small infectious agents that replicate themselves inside the living cells of an organism. Research has demonstrated that viruses can infect all types of living forms and this is the very dangerous part of the story.
What is our story here if we don’t have science or medical background? Our stories relate to people and circumstances. The way we communicate about the virus and the pandemic are not only affected by our capacities to form an opinion on the risks of getting infected, but it also outlines the challenges to get healed by science. Many people around the world are scared of getting infected and that fear is normal, or let’s say natural. For human nature, facing death is a critical moment. Therefore, it is highly intimidating because we spend our life trying to understand what is death and how this event can determine our character, our values, our beliefs and finally our behavior.
The human psyche
The mind, or the soul, or the spirit… This is how we can define what is the human psyche. After all, this is a very interesting concept because it’s a way to recognize that we – as human creature – have a conscious and an unconscious mind. In other words, they are certain things that we can process consciously: for example I can consciously be aware of the dangerousness of a virus because I have read about the symptoms and the damages it can produce. Another example could be: I consciously feel privileged because I live in a place with some decent medical infrastructures and I’m aware of the actions I can take to reduce the risk of infection such as wearing a mask as much as I can.
On the other hand, there is also room for the unconscious mind in our human character because we are affected by certain feelings or sentiments triggered by many different factors. Education, culture, friends, gender… To name a few. They are key elements that shape or significantly influence our unconscious mind. Sometimes, this unconscious mind can override the conscious one, and we then act or behave on the basis of these factors. Nowadays, we tend to call these factors “unconscious biases” because they offer an altered view of a situation. In a way, they do not allow us to have an authentic way to look at the situation; somehow they act as a filter that blocks our human capacity to demonstrate empathy. Being aware of our unconscious biases is something requiring introspection and openness. It is a critical step to remove those filters in order to gain a clear view of what’s unfolding and to act or behave accordingly. Easy to say but not easy to implement one may say, and I fully agree on that. As a result, what are the challenges of tackling our unconscious biases? Often, we struggle to process information in slow motion in order to unpack piece by piece all the stereotypes that our unconscious mind has created. No stress, this is a normal and natural process. The issue is when we are not able to process something in a slow motion… Allow me to be more specific: when we are under stress we tend to rely on our instincts, our core values and this is when we shut down the process of addressing unconscious biases. What does that mean? It means that the challenge is even more difficult to combat unconscious biases when we are in a stressful situation.
Now back to the COVID-19 pandemic, we all know that the virus is highly contagious, but something we also understand is that stress is highly contagious too. Stress can lead to anxiety and other mental health issues. Our environment, family, friends, relationship(s), or absence or relationship(s), uncertainty in our career, fears about the future are among the most prevalent sources of stress for many of us. Furthermore, 2020 added COVID-19 to the list, with all the impacts and implications it can have on our lives.
Claudia and Alvin are scared: how to face future with confidence when you don’t know what future will be about? When you face the risk of not being able to pay your rent? These fears naturally turn into stress and anxiety and this is why many people struggle with mental health issues. Let’s be clear, there’s nothing new here. Societies, relationships, lack of perspectives or opportunities, living conditions, have always been a source of mental strain for many of us. Needless to say, we all have a different emotional sensitivity based on our personality. Altogether, the mosaic of mental states we embody is rich and diverse.
Who among us are the most exposed? The sad reality of this pandemic is that COVID-19 has revealed and magnified all the existing inequalities our societies have been dealing with for decades. In a nutshell, we are now reminded that we can cut our crave for unnecessary products, we can reduce significantly pollution and we can realize that low pay jobs for “non-essential” workers are in fact very much essential to the functioning of society. The most exposed people to COVID-19 are those who cannot social-distance, those who are already facing medical issues, those living in places where basic hygiene is a daily struggle… To me, the most exposed to mental health issues are those who are already in precarious social and economical situations. In fact, those fighting everyday to survive, looking for ways to elevate their living condition in a city or a country that rejects them because of unconscious biases and stereotypes. What is at stakes here is our individual and collective capacity to show empathy and openness to those who struggle. What if we fail? If we fail, people would die or live poorly when affected by mental health issues. I encourage everybody to do your own research if you think that my statement too overwhelming. Stress and anxiety may have been responsible for way more casualties than the pandemic.
Today, because of this global situation, I feel that stress, anxiety, mindfulness and mental health are the elements of a new language, which is rooting in workplaces and trying to address how we can process and react to this disrupted reality. People are laid–off everyday, young graduates cannot express their potential, and many industries are distressed: fashion, art, design, music, cinema, dance, and corporate world are deeply impacted. But more importantly, more human stereotypes are developed. We need to be very careful but also very bold on how we hold all of us accountable for an individual and collective answer on these topics. Behind the natural feeling of stress and anxiety, we must not accept any fears or attacks toward any other group of people because they are not essential or because they are different. Being an Asian publication offers us the great privilege to have a meaningful conversation with Asian and non-Asian stakeholders on empathy and openness. During the past months, we have witnessed a hard trend in terms of racial injustice against Asian people in many different countries on the back of the COVID-19 outbreak. This is shocking and this is a disgrace to live in cities and countries where unconscious biases and stereotypes are literally fueling racism.
What do we have left if we overlook empathy and openness? Many of us see Art & Culture as a vehicle to involve everyone into a constructive conversation. In this context of global health crisis, the political response in some places has been counterproductive and has deteriorated the factors of stress and anxiety to create situations that are out of control.
The “Chinese” virus
The way we speak tells a lot about our conscious and unconscious mindset. Racism is not an option whatever the circumstances and the context may be. Being ignorant about a group of people is something, being ignorant about our own history is also something but we cannot let down anyone because of our own insecurity.
Cross cultural openness and understanding is a bridge to combat racism and stereotypes. In France where racism issues against Asian communities is spreading, publication like KOI are participating to a cultural conversation to change people perspectives.
Business is no longer here
Economy is deeply impacted by supply and demand challenges brought by lockdowns and other measures taken due to the global health crisis. Many companies and businesses have gone bankrupted and predictions are telling us that the worst is yet to come.
I am curious to look into technology and more specifically robotics to see where tomorrow’s business opportunities will be. I’m sensible to the transition toward more technology-driven business. I still want to be optimistic on human capacity to unlock new potential with empathy and openness. Social impact investment is clearly something to follow-up.
Sky is the limit
Some sectors are facing difficulties with greater challenges to solve. Tourism, traveling, hospitality, education, creative fields are now in a defining moment and must find ways to reinvent a whole industry and a whole ecosystem given the new constraints.
The shift had already started before COVID-19, but the sustainability pivot is a great promise to redefine how authentic it is to travel and to produce fashion. There are many ideas out there that are reshaping tourism, fashion and art toward recycling, community’s engagement and purpose. Being intentional is not a limit.
From Bali with love
For a long time, we had been thinking that the most precious or luxurious things were tangible assets: a property, a yacht, a name brand bag, a pair of fancy shoes…
We are moving on with many people who are now convinced that material lives provide only secondary needs. In a period of high stress and anxiety: slow time, love, friendship and health are the main things we pursue.
Distance takes us apart, while many go through to this situation alone. I would like to know to which extent this year has been a reset moment leading us to prioritize relationship(s).
The trend we see here is about the sense of community. Reaching out to our loved ones has become a need that we appreciate more genuinely now. Technology is playing a key role in a world where space and distance have been redefined because of the pandemic.
The human psyche
I would like to invite everybody to reflect on our capacity to grow mentally. How we can raise our standards to create an inclusive space around us.
Mediation and mindfulness sessions are becoming popular, webinars and training around mental health are also more widespread. Let’s see how we will be able to measure and assess their inherent benefits.
Technology, sustainability, community’s engagement, self-expression and realization are by nature key components of Art & Culture. I am fully confident in the power of Art & Culture to heal the word during and after COVID-19.
每當我給我的朋友阿爾文 (Alvin) 留言時，我都會說：“嘿哥們，你在哪裡？”而且大多數時候，他都在幾個小時後回覆我說：“伙計，我剛起床，實際上我周末在紐約，我回到亞洲時可以再打電話給你嗎？於是我順道說了一句，我希望你在這裡！”我認識阿爾文 (Alvin) 很多年了。他在一家航空公司工作，他的工作可以給他帶來很多福利。例如，他的公司可以為他提供大幅折扣的機票費用；他可以從亞洲一直到紐約往返，並且以商務艙的價格得到非常便宜的折扣。那就是在航空業工作的美妙之處：你可以享受環遊世界的樂趣。紐約 (New York)，赫爾辛基 (Helsinki)，巴厘島 (Bali)，卡薩布蘭卡 (Casablanca)，這些地點只是阿爾文的周末逍遙遊的選擇。不幸的是，從疫情發生開始這些福利往往驟降至零點，阿爾文（Alvin）給我發訊息說：“我在城裡，讓我們聚聚吧。我需要一些積極向上的人陪伴”。他上次告訴我，我們去喝酒時，他的公司將遭到裁員，他感到自己的職位處於危險之中。這是一個壓力很大的情況：沒人知道接下來會發生什麼。往後該如何支付房租？我有沒有足夠的儲蓄？如果工作有變數，我還可以依靠我的家人嗎？
技術，可持續性，社區的參與，自我意識的表達與覺醒是藝術與文化的關鍵組成部分。我將對藝術與文化 (Art & Culture) 在正值COVID-19的期間和之後它所扮演治癒疾病的能力充滿無比的信心。
Author: Sanza BULAYA
Translation by CHUANG Shih-Ning