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Artists Nicole Eisenman and Sam Roeck just launched a sticker pack on Apple, titled “Banandemic,” featuring anthropomorphic banana peels enacting COVID-related safety precautions, like wearing latex gloves and masks, bumping elbows with peel-arms, and washing their peel-hands while singing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” “Bananas are just funny,” says Eisenman. “They’re funnier than, say, a peach. A peach is sexy, but it’s not funny; a pomegranate is mysterious, but it’s not humorous.” The stickers do more than lighten the mood during a difficult time: Each $2.99 purchase goes to The New York Community Trust’s NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund, which offers aid to city-based nonprofits that provide health care, housing, and access to food for those in need.
The artists came up with the idea a little over a month ago, in mid-March, when “shit really hit the fan,” says Eisenman. “We came into work that Monday, the 16th, and were like, alright, we have to mobilize.” To make the stickers, Roeck filmed Eisenman with an animation camera while Eisenman held the bananas, gesturing with their peels. (“As soon as you peel it, it’s got arms,” she explains.) They registered as developers and submitted the stickers to Apple’s review board. What followed sounds like a corny wordplay joke, but was an actual series of events: Apple rejected the bananas — four times, apparently on account of their being possibly “offensive” to community standards, says Roeck — but they filed an appeal. “We wrote an epic letter,” says Roeck. “Basically, we just hit them with the big guns,” adds Eisenman. “We started the letter with ‘As a mother of two’ and ended with signing ‘MacArthur winner.’” Apple was persuaded. Since it launched April 21, they’ve already seen hundreds of downloads. “I think we’re going to raise a lot of money,” says Roeck. The duo plans to iterate it, like any good app developer. “We want ones that express a wider range of emotions, like we might need a more depresso banana,” Eisenman says.
The Banandemic stickers are the latest in a series of politically conscious acts Eisenman has made in her work over the past year. In July 2019, her request to remove her beloved sculpture, Procession from the Whitney Biennial was arguably a final straw in the protest to remove board member Warren Kanders. More recently, she donated prints to a fundraiser benefiting COVID-19 Bailout, a grassroots initiative that raises money to post bail for medically at-risk individuals being held at Rikers and other New York City jails. Roeck also worked on the graphics for the organization’s social-media outreach, which have been widely shared. As Eisenman sees it, they’re just doing what they can to help. “I think our role in this is to use whatever leverage and power you have, in whatever position you’re in, to do what you can to help,” says Eisenman. “Not just for artists, but for any human — we all have things we can do. What can you do? Who can you give to? Who can you help out? The most I can do is, like, give shit away: Art or money. So that’s what I’m doing.”