Look — Instagram is a contingent space. Images get deleted, interesting people vanish for months. The most stable feeds are usually ones trying to sell something, and that’s just tedious. Then there’s the matter of privacy: Sure, a certain artist’s posts are public, but who are they really for? What are the terms of our viewership — or our eavesdropping?
And yet! Instagram is a visual commons, and right now, a lifeline. It documents a shared condition around the world: Culture workers are more or less confined, all travel on hold, projects suspended. In my own anxious scrolling, it is a balm when artists take me into the studio, share from the archive or initiate projects to help us get through.
The curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, for instance, is writing daily entries on African LPs from the ’70s and ’80s, and Cauleen Smith is posting her speculative short films — catch them while they’re up. I appreciate seeing how organizations like the Bronx Documentary Center — so close yet so far, right now, from my Brooklyn garret — are contributing to mutual aid in their hard-hit communities. What about escape? I’m here for cats — the Scottish dude who rescued a kitten in Bosnia on his intended bicycle trip around the world (they’re currently stalled in Hungary) is the best IG ever, and the Bodega Cats feed is New York City art in itself. Here are my five current must-follow accounts; New York Times critics will be posting their own favorites every week.
Kara Walker’s “Drawings,” a big, generous show of works on paper this spring at Sikkema Jenkins, in Chelsea, should have been one of this season’s highlights. There were bold new pieces — including a wild, macabre suite involving Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump — but even better, an abundance of sketches and studio notes from the past decade and sometimes further back, offering a fascinating view of how this fundamental American artist thinks and works. Well, it turns out that Ms. Walker is also good at Instagram. Her feed — a jumble of sketches, book recommendations, photographs — is honest and conversational. It helps me think.
The architect-turned-artist Olalekan Jeyifous is suddenly everywhere — murals, group shows, public commissions. Together with Amanda Williams, he’s making the future Shirley Chisholm monument on the edge of Prospect Park, and he’ll be in MoMA’s big upcoming show on architecture and blackness, “Reconstructions.” But his signature form is wild digital designs of urban futures that are both green and humane — the inverse of dystopia, though he’s gifted in imagining that, too. They work on paper and in virtual reality, and they definitely pop on Instagram, where he’s been posting alternative visions for the buildings he sees around his Brooklyn home.
We’re all getting used to masks now, and I’m seeing some good ones out there — handcrafted, made of interesting fabric patterns, worn with panache. It’s a good moment to remember how important masking is for both personal expression and the ways in which communities regulate their physical and spiritual well-being in many traditions. Phyllis Galembo has photographed masquerade for decades, roaming from the Niger Delta to Mexico and many places more, attentive to the ethics of her presence and, as a result, earning remarkable entree and trust. The photographs are fabulous.
In due course, I know that Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, a photojournalist, will get back on the road and resume her global projects — notably her long, intimate engagement with historic Saint-Louis in Senegal and its community of elder, sometimes forgotten, studio photographers. She has also been pushing forward Mfon, the network of women photographers of the African diaspora that she founded with Adama Delphine Fawundu. At the moment, however, Ms. Barrayn is walking in Brooklyn, notably Bedford-Stuyvesant — her lifelong home, and where I live. As I process the crisis, I find her visual notes on my immediate surroundings more crucial than any faraway feed.
The era’s great photographers embrace Instagram variously, and some not at all. Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb use it to resurface three-plus decades of work, including some of Mr. Webb’s color-intense classics from places like Oaxaca, Mumbai or Havana. Ms. Norris Webb, a lovely photographer as well, whose work in a more melancholy register has honored the landscapes of her native South Dakota, is originally a poet; she often selects the meditations of other writers for captions that gently illuminate our present concerns. There’s something special in the quiet way all these elements click on their shared Instagram, which is evidence, too, of a beautiful partnership.