The sculpture is titled “Pandemic” and for University of Wisconsin-Platteville fine arts major Sara Ditchman, it’s a reflection of the uncertainty of COVID-19. Ditchman was selected to present her piece at the Water Street Studios 11th Anniversary Show: Create-in-Place in Batavia, Illinois. The socially distanced exhibition ran from Sept. 25-27. According to Water Street Studios, the collection of artworks explored the complexities of thought and emotions during this time of the coronavirus.
“I created the masks to stare directly back to the viewer,” said Ditchman a junior from Batavia. “It was supposed to be something vaguely haunting. Now we know how many lives have been lost [due to COVID-19], how many people have been homeless and displaced and how this has completely wreaked havoc for so many families and people across America. Those faces are more and more impactful. It makes it seem personal. I want people to take that away.”
Ditchman created “Pandemic” in her sculpture course last year with the original concept being focused on workers’ rights. However, as people around the world started getting infected with COVID-19, Ditchman’s artist statement shifted.
“Visually it was completely done back in November,” she said. “Art changes with historical context. The fact I created this a month before COVID-19 came to America was really interesting. The historical and modern issues that are happening today is what shaped the piece to what it is now.”
What also influenced the narrative change for Ditchman was when her sculpture was selected to be a part of a show at Columbia College Chicago in March. Days later a national emergency was declared in the United States.
“A week later everything was shut down; the very next weekend. My piece was on lockdown in downtown Chicago across the street from the art institute for six months,” she said. “It’s why I changed the named to 'Pandemic.' It was literally trapped inside.”
Ditchman credits UW-Platteville and her professors for giving her the confidence to submit her art to different shows.
“What I have learned from my professors is nothing is ever finished. There is always something you can do,” she said. “It’s helped me not only push from what I can do physically, but also push more of the concepts of what my work means. When I first created 'Pandemic,' I never heard of COVID-19. It made me think harder about what I was doing, what I was trying to say and really prepare myself more to not only be an artist, but be an artist who has something to say.”
With that mindset Ditchman hopes to submit “Pandemic” to other art show openings. “You have to take your career in your own hands. Look for opportunities and create the path you want for yourself,” she said. “I’m definitely thrilled to get to do this and represent UW-Platteville.”