New Zealand

Art from Ruby Jones inspired by New Zealand’s COVID19 hotel isolation journeys

Since March 2020, over 76,000 returning New Zealanders have experienced 14-day managed isolation in hotels around the country in order to keep New Zealand free from COVID-19 in the community. Over the past 14 days, globally renowned Kiwi artist, Ruby Jones has brought their experiences to life in a unique artist residency called ‘Thanks from Iso’.

Jones collaborated with Accor New Zealand who approached the artist after receiving thousands of items of creative and written work from guests undergoing managed isolating 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.

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

Day 1 – Inspired by a woman who returned from UK after many years away.
Day 1 – Inspired by a woman who returned from 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.
Day 2 – This person told me of the enormous ordeal they went through trying to get a fight back home.
Day 2 – This person told me of the enormous ordeal they went through trying to get a fight 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.
Day 3 – Every guest I’ve spoken to has told me about their daily process of receiving their meals in little paper bags.
Day 3 – Every guest I’ve spoken to has told me about their daily process of receiving their meals in little paper bags. For many this seems to help maintain structure and routine during their time in hotel quarantine
Day 4 – This was a tribute for all of those working in managed isolation hotels
Day 4 – This was 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 and processes and protocols were changing every day. However, they’ve also all spoken of how much this work means to them and how motivated they feel every day to go in and do their part to protect the rest of us.
Day 5 – This image was inspired by a woman who wrote a letter mentioning she had lost her sister while staying in isolation.
Day 5 – This 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, how big it must feel.
Day 6 - I spoke to a hotel worker last week who told me she started wearing her pounamu every time they got a new bus load of guests because a few had told her how calm it made them feel to see it.
Day 6 – I spoke to a hotel worker last week who told me she started wearing her pounamu every time they got a new bus load of guests because a few had told her how calm it made them feel to see it. It was a small symbol that simply meant they were home and safe.
Day 7 – This image was inspired by someone who had an enormous ordeal trying to get out of rural India back to NZ.
Day 7 – This image was inspired by someone who had an enormous ordeal trying to get out of rural India back to NZ. 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. I imagine there are many people feeling the same – returning to NZ from overseas because they don’t have a choice, and what that looks and feels like.
Day 8 - Inspired by a person who had to return to NZ because a family member was unwell.
Day 8 – Inspired by a person who had to return to NZ because a family member was unwell. They had regular visits from friends and family who would speak through the fence and bring fresh flowers
Day 9 – A little thank you piece to all of the cleaners and the general helpers working in our isolation families
Day 9 – A little thank you piece to all of the cleaners and the general helpers working in our isolation families. Those I’ve spoken to are so humble and selfless. They don’t want any praise, they tell me they’re simply doing their jobs. And they are, but we’d be absolutely lost without them. I just wanted to make sure they got a little nod where it was due
Day 10 - Inspired by an email from a mother whose son was going to be in iso on his 21st birthday.
Day 10 – Inspired by an email from a mother whose son was going to be in iso on his 21st birthday. She was worried he’d miss out on celebrating it properly so contacted the kitchen to see if they could prepare anything for him and they were already onto it. Hotel staff have also told me this is one of their favourite parts of iso, making note of guests’ important dates and making them as special as they possibly can for them.
Day 11 - This was inspired by a woman who told me about her daughter learning to walk while in managed isolation.
Day 11 – This was inspired by a woman who told me about her daughter learning to walk while in managed isolation. She wanted to make sure her daughter could practice on different surfaces so she took her out to the grass area each day. The hotel staff were incredibly excited and supportive, and even made a ‘baby’s first steps’ cake which they gave to the family on their last day.
Day 12 - This illustration is about the journey of arrival that lots of returnees and workers have told me about.
Day 12 – This illustration is about the journey of arrival that lots of returnees and workers have told me about. How many of them arrive at 3am exhausted, anxious, uncertain of what lies ahead for them over the next two weeks.
Day 13 - Inspired by someone who lost their mum during isolation.
Day 13 – Inspired by someone who lost their mum during isolation. They told me how they created a different piece of art each day to help process the grief.
Day 14 - While conducting one of my final interviews for this project I asked one returnee about a particularly special or memorable part of her two-week stay.
Day 14
While conducting one of my final interviews for this project I asked one returnee about a particularly special or memorable part of her two-week stay. She said it when a friend came to pick her up on the final day. They hugged and cried together but her friend couldn’t stop crying – she’d become so overwhelmed watching all of the other friends and families reuniting outside. She said they sat in the car together and cried some more, watching everyone and simply taking in that precious moment.

    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.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.

    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.”

    Jones’ residency at Allpress Studio in Auckland ran from Tuesday 24 November – Monday 7 December. Throughout the exhibition, thousands of Kiwis were able to view guest creations and artworks directly, including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who shared her experience with followers online.

    Ruby Jones shared: “I feel incredibly honoured to have worked with Accor on this impactful project. Hearing the heartfelt stories of managed isolation residents and frontline workers is an experience I’ll never forget. I hope the works I’ve produced resonate with the people of Aotearoa and spark a deeper sense of understanding for those to come.”

    Image Credits: Ruby Jones

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