‘Spread the Love’ – Arina Voronova’s New York street art campaign - whynow

Russian-born, New York-based photographer Arina Voronova started taking portraits of couples kissing in masks. A powerful reminder that simple acts of love can cut through the noise.


Were you to walk through New York’s empty streets at the moment, you might find a photograph amidst the palimpsest of stickers, adverts and now redundant gig posters pasted on graffiti-tagged walls.

Arina Voronova’s project “The Act of Love” features portraits of loved ones kissing. Sort of. Their blue facemasks prevent their lips from touching. These are images sure to bring a smile to your face, striking for their simple, vital message: love is resilient, even in a time of crisis.

These are images sure to bring a smile to your face, striking for their simple, vital message: love is resilient, even in a time of crisis

“It all started as a small-scale personal project a month ago,” Voronova tells whynow, adding that the project was postponed due to the shortage of masks in New York’s stores. “The negativity of the news related to the virus has such a heavy impact on our minds and behaviour,” she says. To counteract which, she sought to take the weight off with her camera.

To get the uneasy quibbles out the way. No, Voronova’s models aren’t complying with social distancing advice. Yes, the models are people co-habitating. Funny how none of this would have occurred to us even six weeks ago, and how quick we are to point proverbial fingers. “Nothing spreads faster than fear,” reads the tagline to Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion, and although cheesy, there’s some truth to it. Especially in a time of such uncertainty.

“As the level of social anxiety rises,” Voronova explains, “we start missing simple but important things. Support, love, kindness, tolerance.” Re-balancing the negative messaging in the mass media, her images offer touchstones for connectedness, in a world where human contact has been suddenly severed.

“The project is a reminder to all of us of what being a human is,” she says. “Of us, being able to deal with the current world’s most significant problem with love and sympathy.”

Her images offer touchstones for connectedness, in a world where human contact has been suddenly severed

Weeks ago, before New Yorkers were strongly advised to stay at home, Voronova was approaching people — couples, parents with children — on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, asking them if they’d like to participate in her project. She found many people were receptive, including her neighbours and friends. The idea was that a simple pose could spread a message “to support a global community.”

People were so keen to get involved that they started asking Voronova for prints and helped out by printing posters and pasting them up around the city. The project transitioned into an ongoing street art campaign. “[People] wanted the posters in their offices, studios, outside,” Voronova says.

The grassroots simplicity of Voronova’s kissing couples humanises a problem that we’re used to talking about in terms of systems — strategies, infrastructure, economics, statistics. But kindness can’t be quanitifed. Love happens person-to-person, mask-to-mask. Even if we can’t physically touch, we can touch one another with sympathy.

When I’ve left the house for essential visits to the shop, I’ve smiled and acknowledged passers-by. While most have nodded cheerfully in reply, there have been others who have returned my look with one of suspicion, even mild disgust — as if eye contact were a means of transmission.

Love happens person-to-person, mask-to-mask. Even if we can’t physically touch, we can touch one another with sympathy

It’s as if social distancing advice has translated to, ‘head down, ignore everybody else’. I don’t mind and find it entirely understandable, given the circumstances. It’s just I’d much rather be on Voronova’s frequency.

So this is my less elegant, less immediate version of pasting up a poster. Spread the love.

Rampa  They Will Be