The Scientist Behind the Powerful Cover Art of the Journal ‘Polity’ Is Also President of The Graduate Center

COVID Sisyphys by Robin Garrell

When Graduate Center Professors Alyson Cole, Robyn Marasco, and Charles Tien, the new team of editors of the political science journal Polity, chose a work of art for the cover of their first edition, they picked a drawing that powerfully portrayed our times — by an artist with a familiar, but unexpected name.

Introducing their first issue, the editors wrote, “In selecting a cover, we found deeply resonant the pastel drawing of a very small human pushing an immense coronavirus cell uphill. As we began the effort to secure permissions to use this powerful image, we were delighted to discover that the artist was none other than Robin Garrell.” 

They added, “Garrell’s poignant image resonates broadly because the pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives, exposed enduring inequalities, and impacted scholarly production.”

The work is titled COVID Sisyphys. Garrell, who is a chemist, entered it into the “Science as Art” competition sponsored by the UCLA Science Libraries in 2020. COVID Sisyphys was chosen among the top 10 works in the competition.

“I created this pastel drawing in March 2020, a few weeks into the pandemic,” Garrell said. “This is the first time I’ve addressed a sociopolitical theme. As with much of my work, it explores how individuals experience isolation and confront challenges that feel insurmountable.”

Someone sent Cole the image last summer and she found it “so resonant with our current moment or, at least, with how I had begun to feel doing my work, living my life under COVID-19,” that she used it as her screen saver. The editors agreed it was “perfect” for the cover. When Cole sought the artist for permission to use the art, she was “utterly floored” to learn it was the president of The Graduate Center. “Her scholarly and administrative achievements were not a factor in our selection,” Cole added. “It was really a matter of finding an image that just beautifully captured the moment.”

The cover art is one of the ways the editors are changing the journal and, as Cole said, pushing “against some of the strictures of academic publishing. Although Polity is primarily a journal for political scientists, we are eager to cross disciplinary boundaries and having artists featured on our covers is one aspect of that.”

The cover is attracting attention. Cole said that “the Twittersphere seemed immensely appreciative of the fact that we have art adorning our cover. We have also reproduced the image for some Polity swag and those who have received it have thanked us profusely.”

Submitted on: MAR 4, 2021

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