Chronicling Covid-19 on Canvas

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Yinka Olatunbosun reports on the collective effort of select Nigerian and diaspora artists in response to Covid-19 pandemic through a sobering 3D Virtual Art exhibition.

What you click is what you get. The access to this one-of-a-kind exhibition is guided with a brief instruction on how to navigate which is quite easy. Mounted on those walls are delightful works of artists including the US-based Laolu Senbanjo with his afromysterics style of paintings. As eyewitnesses to history, visual artists are consciously documenting the COVID-19 experience which has altered human interactions across the globe. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there had been reports of anxiety, mental stress, poverty, hunger, unemployment and other untold hardship whilst the hope of returning to normal life routine appear grim. No doubt, artists are not immune to the impact of the pandemic instead the experience serves as raw materials for their creativity. In a bid to embrace the new normal occasioned by the global principles of social distancing and lockdown rules, a 3D virtual art exhibition of contemporary art kicked off on April 28 to reflect some of the issues surrounding the global crisis.

With its extensive parade of contemporary artists, the show takes an average of 50mins to savour online. Photography, varied paintings and origami preoccupied the show which viewers may take the liberty to view while snacking or sipping some fine wine. Every piece is titled, “Covid-19″ and for the organisers, Kunle Adewale, Oyindamola Fakeye and Ayopo Onafowokan, who are art responders, it is important to reflect themes of hope, courage, resilience and joy.

“2020 has seen the coronavirus spread into a global health crisis and by March many countries began to prepare for a lockdown,” Oyindamola Fakeye recounted. “As galleries around the world have shut down and will most likely be some of the last businesses to reopen, I think it is important for us to create a virtual exhibition that champions some of the interesting works created during this monumental moment in time.”

The US-based Kunle Adewale who is a trailblazer in Arts in Medicine had been actively engaging artists in conversations around how to appropriate the tools of art in inspiring optimism, fostering a sense of community and promoting mental health during this period of pandemic.

“The artist’s sole duty is to unravel the wounds of humanity in the time of crisis, he becomes the light and the wellbeing that humanity needs,” Adewale stated in the e-catalogue.

Senbanjo’s piece was quite predictable: a female with the artist’s signature body painting who is clad in black mask. The mask turns out to be a recurring feature in the show which also celebrates the everyday heroes of Covid-19 namely healthcare workers, global health authorities as well as young children who are out of school to keep safe from the virus.

The UK-based Adebanji Alade brings an impressionist perspective to the virtual space with his spotlight on health care workers at the frontline of the battle against Covid-19. On her part, Valerie Fab- Uche, a multidisciplinary artist presents a two-piece origami made of straw to illustrate social distancing. This same subject matter is central to Ayopo Onafowokan’s painting of the iconic “Lagos White Cap Chiefs.” Each of the chiefs is made to stand distinctively apart from the other, thus making a powerful statement on conscious social distancing. Still bringing the Nigerian flavour to the show is Adenle John whose impressively colourful collage shows a map of Nigeria in blue, a colour that is largely associated with love.

Away from Nigerian-themed works, one would find the works of Olamide Olasunmade quite revealing. One of his paintings that could pass for a mural is heavy on texts on the rules of preventing Covid-19 infection. His animation piece is also eye-catching as it depicts the scenario and the overarching emotion of health authorities at a press briefing. In this piece, all the healthcare workers seem confused, holding talks ahead of the press session.

“The role of an artist in this global pandemic shifts from the studio to the street. The artist becomes a collector of truth, a story teller, a social activist, a social commentator, and a curator of human experience,” Adewale remarks.

Covid-19 has created an unusual bond that shatters the pillars of racism. As the world is waging the war against the pandemic simultaneously, the social reality in Emmanuel Bobbie’s photography that shows two girls-black and white- hits harder. Whether it is Anna and Elena’s mixed media painting or Yusuf Durodola’s photography, the show gives the artists the platform to crystallize this somber chapter in world history.