Ruby Jones isolation art

By Carolyn Enting

December 18, 2020

Thousands of New Zealanders are currently in managed isolation, thousands have already experienced it and many more will in the future. Acclaimed Kiwi artist Ruby Jones recently completed an artist residency inspired by New Zealand’s COVID-19 quarantine efforts, and the works are beautifully on point.

Jones collaborated with Accor New Zealand who approached Jones after receiving thousands of items of creative and written work from guests undergoing managed isolation in their hotels. The material offers fascinating insights into the journey made by those who have experienced 14 days of managed isolation as well as the Kiwis who have been tirelessly working on the front line for the majority of the year. 

The exhibition at Allpress Studios featured written work and art including letters from guests in isolation.

As part of her 14-day residency at Allpress Studios in Auckland, Jones interviewed dozens of Kiwi workers and residents in isolation, creating a body of artwork designed to encompass the bravery and solidarity shown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ruby and Accor will eventually donate all 14 pieces of unique artwork to Auckland Museum.

We wanted to share some of these beautiful artworks which share an insight into what managed isolation is like for so many Kiwis from the guests through to the hotel workers.

We Love you. Illustration Ruby Jones

The above image was inspired by a person who had to return to New Zealand because a family member was unwell. They had regular visits from friends and family who would speak to them through the fence and bring fresh flowers each time.

Half way there. Illustration Ruby Jones

The above illustration was inspired by a woman returned from the UK after many years away. “I asked what the hardest moment was for her in isolation and she said the halfway point when she knew she was so close to her family but there was still a whole week to go without seeing them,” says Jones.

Meal times in managed isolation. Illustration Ruby Jones

“Every guest I’ve spoken to has told me about their daily process of receiving their meals in little paper bags,” says Jones. “For many this seems to help maintain structure and routine during their time in hotel quarantine.”

Dealing with grief in isolation. Illustration Ruby Jones

Isolation can be tough and heartbreaking, especially when you lose loved ones. The above image was inspired by a woman who wrote a letter mentioning she had lost her sister while staying in isolation. There are many people who are sadly having to return home under similar circumstances. “I was trying to capture the feeling of being alone with that grief, and how big that must feel,” says Jones.

A symbol of calm. Illustration Ruby Jones

Jones also spoke to a hotel worker who shared that she started wearing her pounamu every time they got a new bus load of guests because a few had told her how clam it made them feel to see it. It was a small symbol that simply meant they were home and safe.

A tribute to all those working in managed isolation hotels. Illustration Ruby Jones.

Throughout the COVID response effort, hotel teams from across the country have been supporting Kiwis returning home alongside government agencies such as AvSec, NZDF, MoH, MBIE and the NZ Police, together working tirelessly to help keep our communities safe. 

Jones says her illustration is a tribute for all of those working in managed isolation hotels. “They’ve spoken of the work being exhausting at times, especially in the beginning when everything was so uncertain,” says Jones. “However, they’ve also all spoken of how much this work means to them and how motivated they feel to go to work every day to go in and do their part to protect the rest of us.”

According to Gillian Millar, Accor Senior Vice President Operations, “The journey for our teams, government agencies and guests since the first lockdown has been both heart-wrenching and rewarding. I am incredibly proud of the way our teams step up to help the government and our communities stay safe. We knew we needed a way to capture these tales, inner thoughts and experiences in a concentrated body of work that will encompass this moment in time – providing a visual understanding for generations to come.”

A thank you to the housekeepers. Illustration Ruby Jones.

Above is a thank you piece for all the housekeepers and hotel teams working in our isolation families. “Those I have spoken to are so humble and selfless. They don’t want any praise, they tell me they are simply doing their jobs. And they are, but during this time in Aotearoa would be lost without them. I just wanted to make sure their contribution got a little nod where it was due,” says Jones.

Travel stories. Illustration Ruby Jones

“This person told me of the enormous ordeal they went through trying to get a flight back home. They spoke about the huge wave of relief that washed over them as the plane touched down on New Zealand soil – they knew they were home and safe.”

Home but what does that mean now? Illustration Ruby Jones

Home but what does home mean now? This image was inspired by someone who had an enormous ordeal trying to get out of rural India back to New Zealand. “They told me the moment they started crying was when the pilot said over the speaker ‘you are safe, we are taking you home.’ They cried because they felt like they were home in India and were having to leave a whole community and home they’d built for them and their family,” says Jones. “I imagine there are many people feeling the same – returning to New Zealand from overseas because they don’t have a choice, and what that looks and feels like.”

The exhibition at Allpress Studios also had art done by people in isolation who had illustrated the paper bags their meals were delivered in.

Ruby Jones gained international prominence after her artwork was published on the front cover of Time magazine following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

You can also wear her art thanks her collaboration with not-for-profit Greatfull which has produced a limited-edition collection of underwear for men and women with all proceeds donated to Bowel Cancer research.

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