THESE are momentous times we are living through. The country has seen nothing like it for generations, and no crisis since the Second World War has touched quite so many people around the world.

Such tumultuous events as the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting global lockdown have naturally prompted thought-provoking creations by everyone from imaginative children to professional artists.

Today The Oxford Times - sister paper of the Oxford Mail - joins forces with The Ashmolean Museum to launch a a new art competition for our readers and members of the public, to demonstrate the impact of coronavirus to future generations.

The Artists in Residence competition invites us all to show our creativity in artistic responses to a situation which has affected everyone and every aspect of our lives this year.

Selected entries will be printed weekly in The Oxford Times.

Shortlisted works of art will also be displayed on the Ashmolean’s website and the runners-up and winners in each category will be shown at a special exhibition on the museum’s forecourt when the Ashmolean reopens, commemorating the world-changing events of 2020.

The Artists in Residence competition aims to draw out and document what people are thinking, feeling and making at this unprecedented time. Responses might reflect on the experience of lockdown and being at home, things that people miss or look forward to when life resumes, or sources of inspiration and hope during the difficult circumstances that we are all facing.

Entries are invited from UK-based participants and will be judged in three age categories: under 11, ages 11-17, and 18 and over.

Entrants can submit any type of visual artwork, from painting, drawing or printmaking, to computer aided design, textiles, photography, sculpture, decorative arts, and performance and film.

Banbury Cake:

Janina Ramirez

Entries will be judged by a panel consisting of Tim Hughes, Features Editor of The Oxford Times; Dr Janina Ramirez, cultural historian, broadcaster and Course Director at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education; Dr Kamal Mahtani, GP and Deputy Directory of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Oxford University; and Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean.

Dr Sturgis said: “It is a particular sadness that when we’re most in need of the things museums offer us, they have been forced to close.

“Although the Ashmolean’s collections are safer than ever – unthreatened by passing rucksacks, joyful toddlers and daylight – the museum desperately misses its visitors. The great excitement of museums is not, after all, in the stuff they look after but in the encounters between that stuff and people.

“What is the point of Alfred’s Jewel or Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest without anyone to stand in front of them and marvel?

“Over the past few weeks the public has shown extraordinary resourcefulness, generosity and imagination in the face of the greatest challenge we’ve faced in a generation. In response to this, when the Ashmolean reopens, we will be celebrating the collective creativity of the visitors and communities who give the museum its purpose.”

Dr Ramirez is a renowned cultural historian, writer and broadcaster. A familiar face on TV where she has presented shows on art and history, she is the author of acclaimed histories The Private Lives of the Saints and Julian of Norwich. She has also published children’s books in her Viking Mystery series.

She is the course director of undergraduate History of Art at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education and lives in Woodstock.

Banbury Cake:

Janina Ramirez

She said: “Being an art historian, I’ve always been struck by how moments of greatest change, drama or destruction tend to bring about the most fascinating transformations in art. The coronavirus outbreak and the global response is unlike anything that has happened before, and artists, writer, musicians, actors will find new modes of expression to create art that reflects this time. Because art is the way humans scratch their existence onto time and record unique, yet shared, stories.

“This competition will document these differing experiences, from being locked in a house for two months entertaining young children, to battling through the virus in hospital. The Ashmolean will be the treasure chest, bringing these works together so future generations can know what we went through.

“I’m delighted to be a part of this. It will be hard to chose winners, but I’m looking for art that provides a moving record – that speaks of personal experience, yet manages to communicate with everyone. We are all carving our names into history at the moment and this is a chance to be part of something lasting.”

Encouraging Oxford Times readers to join the challenge, Tim Hughes said: “Our daily lives have changed in ways unimaginable to us even just a couple of months ago. All the old certainties have disappeared, replaced by a new landscape of anxiety, fear and uncertainty.

“Experiences have ranged from boredom, claustrophobia and isolation, for most of us, to anxiety, suffering, poverty, loneliness and, for some, grief.

Banbury Cake:

The Ashmolean's Isolation Creations project saw online 'visitors' creating responses to objects from the museum's collection - such as this by Ellie Field

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“Yet there have been moments of light too: communities have pulled together, wildlife has flourished and we have been able to spend precious time with partners, family, housemates or just getting to know ourselves. For some of us, too, the lack of demands on our time has given us space to develop new skills or nurture talents, all of which can be put to great use in creating an artistic response to the pandemic.

"There can be no greater prize than seeing your creation at the Ashmolean – the world’s oldest public museum, a repository of artistic genius, and a beacon of human endeavour. Oxford Times readers are, I know, more than up to the challenge and I can’t wait to see the results.”

Banbury Cake:

Dr Mahtani said: “It’s widely recognised that wellbeing is influenced by non-clinical factors like exercise, spending time with other people, and creativity. Coronavirus and the lockdown present particular challenges to both our physical and mental health.

“Although we can’t access them in person, museums are still providing resources for engagement, reflection and inspiration. Clinicians know that in crises such as this one, time spent on artistic output will help. I cannot wait to see the works of art which people create in response to the pandemic.”

  • For more details go to ashmolean.org