‘Picturing the Pandemic’ centers on the impact of journaling amidst crisis 

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On Nov. 15, the William Benton Museum of Art hosted “Picturing the Pandemic: Curation, Collaboration and the Power of Journaling.” It provides an online platform for people to anonymously journal their experiences and feelings during the pandemic. Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus

On Nov. 15, the William Benton Museum of Art hosted a webinar dedicated to Hartford Public Library’s exhibition called “Picturing the Pandemic: Images from the Pandemic Journaling Project.”  

The webinar was hosted by Sarah S. Willen, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut and Alexis L. Boylan, a professor of art & art history and Africana studies at UConn and the director of academic affairs at UConn’s Humanities Institute.  

Willen and Boylan covered and discussed the materials on display, which are part of the Pandemic Journaling Project — an online platform for people to anonymously journal their experiences and feelings during the pandemic in the form of written texts, drawn images, taken photographs and audio recordings.

While Willen and Boylan are the curators of the exhibition, the creators of PJP are Willen and Katherine A. Mason, a professor at Brown University. The exhibition is currently on display in Hartford, but is planned to be showcased in future locations including Providence, Rhode Island; Heidelberg, Germany and Mexico City, Mexico in the spring and summer of 2023.

Willen and Boylan explained the motives for the creation of the project as well as the results and gains from it. According to Willen, the pandemic had an extreme effect on people, who lacked an outlet for conveying difficult feelings. 

“We could see the world shaken and things we took for granted collapsing around us. The goal was creating a space where people can express themselves freely and publicly.”

Sarah S. Willen, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut

“We could see the world shaken and things we took for granted collapsing around us,” said Willen. “The goal was creating a space where people can express themselves freely and publicly.” 

Besides being a platform for self-expression, PJP also serves as a future research archive. The project is set to be a hub for scientific research on how human beings have been affected by the pandemic mentally and emotionally.  

“After 25 years, the entire collection is going to become a public historical archive,” said Boylan.  

Over 1,800 people from 55 countries contributed more than 26,000 entries, while the participants’ ages ranged from 15 to 90 years old.  

The project has also received plenty of media attention. It was discussed in an article for The New York Times and Psychology Today, as well as foreign media sources.  

“One thing we’ve done to make sure this is an active experience is giving everyone who comes a journal of their own.”

Sarah S. Willen, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut

During the webinar, Willen and Boylan presented people’s audio entries — raw, genuine, expressive voice recordings in numerous languages, but mostly English and Spanish. 

The artistic part of the project consists of visual entries: collage pieces, computer-illustrated works, photos, paintings, drawings and even sculptural pieces. 

“An image becomes a part of an emotional truth-telling process,” said Willen.  

At the exhibition at Hartford Public Library, visitors are encouraged to write their own entries on a poster. The idea of journaling as self-expression was promoted by both Willen and Boylan. 

“One thing we’ve done to make sure this is an active experience is giving everyone who comes a journal of their own,” said Willen.  

Overall, the webinar emphasized the importance and benefits of journaling: its multifunctionality as a space for reflection and learning, as well as a therapeutic resource.  

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