COVID-19 Art in Africa


TACOMA, Washington — On the whole, the numbers of cases of COVID-19 in Africa have remained low, especially compared to the American, European and Asian continents. By October, there were around 1.5 million cases across Africa, which has a population of more than one billion. Additionally, the total of deaths on the entire continent was close to 40,000. When compared with “roughly 580,000 in the Americas, 230,000 in Europe and 205,000 in Asia,” Africa has definitely had fewer deaths. COVID-19 Art in Africa has changed how people are reacting to the pandemic. It is also helping artists survive in quarantine.

Some Reasons for the Differences

One reason there may be fewer deaths In sub-Saharan Africa is that 91% of infected patients are younger than 60. Older patients are likely to have more underlying conditions, and therefore, more likely to die from complications due to COVID-19.

Also to be considered are the lockdown measures. These measures have decimated the continent economically, but they may be responsible for lower infection rates. Those same lockdown measures have forced visual artists, musicians and video artists to navigate their new reality in innovative, creative ways. Here are 5 ways in which artists are producing Covid-19 art in Africa.

Arts Talent Africa (ARTTA)

Melissa Ukamaka and Nkaze Aichetou Njoya founded Arts Talent Africa (ARTTA) in October 2019. Its goal is to unearth artists that otherwise don’t have the financial means for promotion in their home region/states. ARTTA funds are used for just that. ARTTA has made headlines with its Covid-19 Art Challenge. The Challenge was broadcast to 21 nations on the continent with 10 winners receiving $1,000 in prize money. Contestants can be anywhere between the ages of 16 and 60. The pieces can be paintings, crafts or sculptures that reflect how the virus has impacted their own lives.

Cape Town Lockdown

South Africa’s art scene had undergone a shift from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Cape Town collectors and artists welcomed the shift in location, redesignating Cape Town as a primary market for arts. Art became a tool for healing from a turbulent past, and predictors saw no end in sight. Then, Covid-19 hit.

It was essential to quell the ensuing economic tailspin, so the Cape Town art scene had to adapt or perish. Artists and dealers did what they do best: get creative. Online engagement became a necessity for the scene. In March 2020, it moved the February’s exhibits online until April. Artists spent the lockdown expanding their offerings through holding virtual tours, moving exhibitions entirely online and even having an art auction on the web. The results were astounding. Numbers and dollar amounts were topped by big and small galleries alike.

#DontGoViral — UNESCO

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has joined the cultural battle against misinformation. It has saved lives with its #dontgoviral campaign. UNESCO has teamed up with other groups, like Nigeria’s Raised Fist and UNHRC, to multiply its efforts.

The campaign has called on recording artists to submit works in their own local languages with the intent of reaching people in nomadic and underserved areas. The program has been dramatically successful. In fact, it had reached 90 million people by the summer of 2020 and garnered 500 submissions from recording artists in 19 different African countries during that same time.

Somalia — EU

The European Union is working with artists in Somalia to raise awareness about COVID-19. Somalia has different needs in combating disinformation due to its illiteracy rate. The delegation addressed these concerns in a statement. “Art reaches many more people. In the Somali community, a majority of people do not know how to read or write, so they need art to understand how dangerous this problem is.”

Somali artist Nujuum Hashi Ahmed survived the disease after contracting coronavirus in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu. Her work focuses on removing the stigma surrounding preventive measures. In Mogadishu, many people were not wearing masks. “If somebody wears a face mask, everyone is looking at them saying they have the coronavirus, it is like stigmatizing them.” In response, her art often involves people in protective gear serving as heroes to all of Somalia.

1–154 Contemporary African Art Fair

The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London showcases upwards of 110 emerging and established artists from the African continent. The question for 2020 was how the Coronavirus altered the lives of artists. In a roundtable discussion, they recounted the moment. A number of artists remarked on some of the positives due to the pandemic. They noted:

  • Nurturance of the online medium as a way to promote, organize and sell works
  • Better ways for up-and-coming artists to distribute their works
  • Increased willingness from art collectors/buyers to embrace the new online medium
  • Improved communication between artists, fueling collaboration and co-exhibition and even citing #dontgoviral in their discussion

COVID-19 art in Africa could have signaled the end for many art creators, distributors and sellers, but the results have been encouraging. Like all businesses, they are discovering the limits as well as the opportunity in this new reality. Does art imitate life, or vice-versa? For these artists living through these dark times, there will always be a bit of both.

Christopher Millard
Photo: Pixabay


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