Zygote Press Faces COVID-19: “Creating is Medicine”

Kill Joy, Carving for her Eruption Series, 2020

When artist Kill Joy arrived in Cleveland from Mexico City in February for her two-month residency, it was snowing. To cope with the frigid weather, the first works she started carving at Zygote were images of the hottest natural substance on Earth: lava from volcanic eruptions. The series, featuring volcano sites she has visited, takes on quite a different meaning today. Only a few months later, their cataclysmic explosions now indicate disaster, impending death, and doom—the power of nature and the fragility of humans.

Like other studios and galleries in Cleveland, Zygote has shuttered its doors to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A communal printmaking studio at its core, closing to the public and our renters means no open studio, no classes, no events. Zygote has also had to close the gallery, the timing of which required the staff to create an online opening reception for the current exhibition, Genius loci_ toward understanding of place, featuring works by Tressa Jones and Arron Foster. Due to the pandemic, the entire run of the show fell during quarantine—so an online streaming closing reception was also created, featuring the artists, as well as virtual walk-throughs.

Zygote’s educational outreach programs were also suspended, as schools and libraries closed. Zygote’s Global Arts Initiative program at Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy, which serves immigrant and refugee students in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, was cut short with plans to continue in the fall.

Also postponed was the new Women & Print Program, a neighborhood arts and community-building program created with the Campus District and in partnership with Cleveland Print Room. The ten-week program began at the Cleveland Print Room, where a class of ten women learned the basics of darkroom photography. They were then supposed to continue at Zygote, where participants would learn a print technique called photogravure. Throughout the sessions, the cohort would explore expressions of womanhood in their lives and community. It has been postponed indefinitely.

In the face of adversity, Zygote has had to adapt. As this went to print, in addition to the online streaming of exhibition events, the staff is exploring the possibility of online demos, has started to feature our renters on social media—showing what they have been up to in their home studios—and has planned an online streaming artist talk/demo with our resident artist Kill Joy, who has spent the entire pandemic here in Cleveland.

When news of COVID-19 began to intensify, Kill Joy started to shift her focus from her Eruption series to direct messages about the healing power of art. During these difficult times, her messages are like small beacons of hope: Laughter is Medicine, Creating is Medicine, etc. These little carvings speak volumes and help us to remember that ultimately, now, as always, art has the power to heal.

Kill Joy, Medicine Series, 2020

While she works alone in Cleveland, Kill Joy’s output has become a document of this strange moment—the end of which is uncertain. In an ultimate twist of irony, Kill Joy, who prefers to remain somewhat anonymous, never shares photos of her face on social media. She does this primarily by wearing a bandana over her face, which has become something of a trademark for her. Who could have ever thought that wearing a bandana would now take on an entirely different meaning—as we all don our masks, bandanas, and face the unknown.



No(where) is a glimpse of the Midwest through DIY print culture. Common themes of place, family, and identity are displayed through prints, posters, books, and zines. Featuring the photographic work of Rachael Banks, Nathan Pearce, and Jake Reinhart.


1410 East 30th Street

Cleveland, Ohio 44114