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COVID-19: The elephant on canvas

ARTWORK on COVID-19 by Agnes Yombwe

ART YAK with CHANDA MWENYA
THE coronavirus pandemic has caused fear and claimed thousands of lives around the world. The preventive measures of social distancing and self quarantine suggested by health experts to avert the surge have literally changed society and its economic activities. The local art scene has not been spared by the effects of the prevailing pandemic.
While the situation has enabled some artists’ to introspect and afford quality to time to work quietly in the wake of the coronavirus, others have found the circumstances retrogressive and counterproductive.
To appreciate the complexity of coronavirus on the local art scene, Artyak engaged with some artists and recorded the reactions below.
Patrick Mweemba from Choma said: “I have been hit hard; I have failed to collect my payments and deliver my work. I only hope this will end soon.”
And Lusaka-based Ngandwe Mwaba who planned a solo exhibition dubbed “Who Am I” which was scheduled to open on April 4 had this to say: “Because of the pattern in which the COVID-19 is spread, I have decided to move the show to the end of April. With this development, I have to subject the event to health regulations which have been set to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But I don’t really know if the patrons will be willing to come out in the midst of this surge. I can only hope the situation will be contained by then, otherwise it would be counterproductive to cancel the show.”
Female artist Mulenga J. Mulenga also bemoaned the postponement of group show she was supposed to join. “It has made us postpone a group exhibition,” she said.
And from Ndola, Danny Chiyesu said because of COVID-19, his employer has sent him on a one-month forced leave.
Perhaps the most compelling setback on the visual arts calendar following the outbreak of COVID-19 is the postponement of the Zambia National Visual Arts Council (VAC) annual general meeting which was scheduled for March 28 in Lusaka.
VAC chairman Chande Kapundu announced the cancellation of the meeting.
Kapundu posted in the organisation’s Whatsapp group: “Under the current situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we collectively feel the need for responsibility and voice of reason. In light of this, the AGM scheduled for March 28 has been postponed to a date to be announced when the coast is clear, let’s paint COVID-19.”
But again, it is said challenges create opportunities. Livingstone-based artist Agnes Yombwe has employed the atmosphere created by the pandemic to lock herself in her studio to develop works anchored on the deadly scourge.
In one of her works forged from her taboo template, Agnes employs an elephant as a centre piece to illustrate some facts and myths about the coronavirus.
In her typical style, Agnes makes a silhouette of an elephant against a dark background. She then adds text of well founded scientific facts about COVID -19 and resolutely includes “mythical” memes to the subject.
‘I have actually been in self-quarantine since December, this COVID-19 has actually made me to reflect and stay in my creative cocoon and work without disturbance,” Agnes says.
Mazabuka-based artist with a penchant for photography Charles Mukando has used the atmosphere created by COVID-19 to embark on a photographing spree he has dubbed “Isolation” to capture socially engaging images, which he has been sharing on various online platforms.
And William Miko, who describes himself as an art interlocutor, has employed the isolation period to introspect about the dynamics and effects of the pandemic on artists and society.
chandamwenya@gmail.com

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