Who are you? Where do you live?; since when?; why?
My name is Zoe Bray
I live in Reno, Nevada, in the USA, since 2018. My partner (also from Europe) and I chose to make our home here because we love it here – the outdoors and the people – and we have found great professional opportunities. There is also a family connection: my great-grandfather immigrated from Baxe Nafarroa to Nevada for some years in the early 1900s to work as a sheepherder.
What measures have your local authorities taken to combat the pandemic?
‘Non-essential’ businesses are shut down since mid-March, and so are schools and many public institutions. One question of contestation is what constitutes a non-essential business. By and large, with the exception of grocery stores and hospitals, the city has come to a standstill. Social-physical distancing is presently the norm, and people are encouraged to stay home.
In Nevada, the impact of the Coronavirus crisis is particularly severe: the state’s economy is heavily dependent on gambling and, generally, the entertainment services industry. Thousands of people have already been laid off. People are afraid to lose their homes, lose their health insurance, lose their ability to put food on the table. The federal government has decided on a number of major rescue packages. But these have yet to come, and it is unclear for people whether they will be sufficient. What makes matters worse, many people in Nevada and elsewhere in the US are afraid to go to the doctor because they are uninsured, underinsured or simply cannot deal with exorbitant and intransparent medical bills and the co-pays and deductibles that come with them.
Do you think these are reasonable/sufficient? Why?
I think social-physical distancing is a necessary measure.
What measures have you chosen to take?
We practice social-physical distancing and are not meeting anyone. When we go shopping, we wear masks given to us by a neighbor. We wash our hands very regularly. Following these rules, we do not think it is necessary to also use disposable wipes and chemical cleaning products, given the harm this causes to the environment. When this pandemic is over, we still need a healthy natural world to live in!
How do people around you react? Do you and other people around you still go to work?
It has taken time for many people to process the information and take the warnings seriously. But people have come around and social distancing is now generally practiced. As elsewhere, toilet paper, flour and hand sanitizers were sold out for over three weeks. But these items are now back on the shelves.
Can you work from home? If you have to stay home, who are you with?
Yes, both my partner and I work from home.
As an artist and portrait painter, my major project lately was painting the portraits of Basque Nevadans from life – which includes them coming to my studio and sitting with me for several hours per day, several days per week. Presently I am unable to do my work as usual. My scheduled exhibitions in the Basque Country and in Nevada, are all in suspense now, as are planned presentations and painting commissions. So as concerns my ability to work, the coronavirus crisis has brought an end to my usual artistic activities. I still work, though, on drawings of everyday scenes, and publish them on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/zoe.bray.75) and my blog (www.zoebray.com).
Luckily, my partner and I do not currently face economic hardship. As an artist, I am used to a volatile business environment and always have to plan ahead for harder times anyways.
We have two small children – 5 and 7 – and now that their school is shut, we spend a lot of time together. This has so far been a very beautiful side-effect of this horrible crisis. We are very much enjoying our time together.
How do you keep in touch with friends and family?
Zoom is the virtual social forum with friends in Reno. With family and friends in Europe, we use Whatsapp.
What do you do to pass the time?
I have no time to kill with two kids at home, and work. We are lucky to have a garden, so we make compost and plant vegetables. We also go for walks and cycle-rides in nature – Nevada is rich in public lands and wide-open spaces, and there are no restrictions on how far you can venture from your home.
Are you scared?
I am very worried about what will happen to our societies and our democratic values under a prolonged state of emergency and given the many people facing terrible health crises and/or economic hardships. I am also very concerned with the continuing harm we are doing to our planet. We need to take this crisis as a wake-up call for systemic change.
Something positive to say? An anecdote?
Many things: local community and kindness; the radical decrease in traffic pollution; the slower pace of daily living; artistically, the Coronavirus crisis has forced me to explore other avenues of my artistic creativity, which I had pursued before, but had not hitherto fully concentrated on: one of them is producing drawings of observations of daily life during the coronavirus crisis, that celebrate life with a touch of humor. I miss getting together with the local Basque community through my portrait painting project, but we keep in touch via the phone and messaging, and this strong connection prevails.