Artist Kat Wilson seeks to capture moment with ‘Quarantine Habitat’ series

Cassie Cass, #quarantinehabitat, Fort Smith, March 2020

The exact date that it changed varies a bit for everyone, but exact dates don’t matter much at the moment. The world is undeniably different.

For the most part, we are all living in at least some form of isolation in our homes right now. We are hunkered down with our nuclear families, or with roommates or friends. In some cases, we are completely alone.

We are in survival mode. We are trying to take care of each other and take care of ourselves. We are trying to work, or find work, or maintain sustenance while we also try with varying degrees of success to educate our children, and comfort them, and explain this to them, and help them understand why things are different.

We are unkempt and untidy. We are seeking normalcy where we can find it. We are howling with our neighbors to find connection. We refresh social media feeds looking for family, or ideas on how to cope, or news, or solidarity, or common ground, or hope.

None us know how, or when, it will end. And though the world has seen calamity and sickness and despair before, I don’t think any of us have ever seen anything quite like this.

Enter artists, who recognize all of this, and know that it has to be captured for all the bewildering, uncertain, incomprehensible mess that it is.

One of the best local examples we’ve seen of this comes from Arkansas artist Kat Wilson, and her new Quarantine Habitat series of user-generated portraits on social media.

It is an extension of Wilson’s acclaimed Habitat Series, where she captured people in their homes, surrounded by their possessions, with dramatic lighting to highlight their humanity. Photos from the series have been shown at museums and galleries all over the U.S., including at the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

With her new series, in this new normal, and consistent with social distancing guidelines, Wilson is asking her subjects to photograph themselves in their own quarantine situation, and post them to social media with the hashtag #quarantinehabitat to document these crazy and uncertain times we are all living in at the moment.

The Jordan Family, #quarantinehabitat, Fayetteville March 2020

Wilson prepared some instructions, and commissioned other local artists to help her bring them to life through graphic design and video. Then, she put them out into the world, and waited to see what happened.

Already, she has received some impressive submissions (check out the hashtag on Instagram to see about 60 posts that have been created so far). And though she’s not sure what she’ll do with the series once it’s all over, she hopes to get a lot more.

“I have no idea (how many I’ll get), but I know I want it to feel like NWA did a collaborative art project to share with the world,” Wilson said. “I’ll keep doing this until this is all over.”

Instructions for how to create your #QuarantineHabitat are below.

We got in touch with Wilson to learn more about the project, and she was nice enough to answer some questions over email.

Tell us a bit about your original Habitats series, how it came about, and how it has evolved over time.

Habitats began in 2004, two years after I graduated from art school. Over the course of those two years, I worked as a commercial photo assitant so that I could learn lighting.

Throughout school, I was constantly faced with photography not being viewed as a legitimate art form, and it became extremely important to me to find a formula that could really showcase the art of photography. The formula for Habitats is a simple but powerful one, composition, lighting, content, and subject.

Now that we are all confined, how and where we live is more relevant than ever. That’s obviously a huge part of the Quarantine Habitats you’ve been working on. How did you get the idea to encourage folks to shoot their own habitat portraits during this situation we all find ourselves in?

I was completely freaked out, and I knew everyone else was too. My wife said, “You know, you gotta do a project to help folks” and I replied, “already on it.”

I made a flyer March 13th that said, “INTERACTIVE ART FROM A DISTANCE,” and announced on March 15th Quarantine Habitats. I started out doing instructional videos that included “prepper gardening tips during a quarantine.”

You know I think I’m funny, but I realized fast I needed to leave funny to Clunk, so after eight videos I started to rethink my approach. So I started simplifying the directions and posting them. I began to get more submissions. So I commissioned Chad Maupin to make me a simplified illustrated guide. Again, more submissions. So I hit up Dillion Dooms to make me an animated guide. He charged me pennies, such a good guy. Yet again, more and better submissions.

Be on the lookout for new instructional guides by artist Catherine Goenner of Bella Vista and by artist Rory Austin of Rogers.

With the selfie throne series you’ve been working on recently, it seems like user-generated content is something you’ve already been playing around with. But control is also a thing for artists, right?

I always say my images are so good because of the performance of the sitter.

What is it like to let go of some of that control with your recent work?

I’m just always trying new things and seeing what everybody is interested in, and right now, people want to be part of the art.

What has your personal quarantine situation been like?

My garden used to be an Art Garden where I grew exotic seeds and gourds for drying. Now it’s a preppers garden full kale and potatoes.

Y’all doing ok?

My wife is pregnant and due in 4 weeks. There was a mention that my wife would have to give birth alone but luckily we’re at a birthing center and that won’t be the case. I can’t imagine going through that alone! This makes me think about how sad it is that everyone has to be alone when battling f*cking Covid19. We had our first friend die and he died alone. So not fair.

Quarantine Habitats, they make me feel not alone.

What I find so compelling about this is, I feel like this is going to be such a defining time for a generation of people. Capturing it is going to be monumentally important. Do you feel some of that too?

I have always thought about what it will be like to look at any Habitat pic in 100 years. Especially your decidents. Now it’s, “What did it look like to quarantine 100 years ago. Look at great grandma she had plenty of dried beans and an iPad 6.”

How to create your own Quarantine Habitat

Graphic: Chad Maupin

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit