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Africa, diaspora artists converge to explore COVID-19 Through the Lens of Art

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A painting titled Rabiu titled ‘Weight of Depression (acrylic on xanvas, 24” by 18”), by Kabir Bashir Rabiu.

With the world gradually rolling into a new normal, 25 artists from Africa and Europe recently came together for a virtual exhibition titled, Exploring COVID-19 Through the Lens of Art.

Held from May 26 to June 8, 2020, on the platform of Vilsquare, a Nigerian research and strategy consulting company, the exhibition had on display works by Baba Shabu (Liberia), Otonye Bille Ayodee, Ifeatu Nnaobi (Germany), Michael Khateli (Kenya), Bashir Kabir Rabiu, Yewande Oseni, Nkem Odeh-Ifeyinwa, Onome Olotu, Nissi Odewumi, Chidimma Ikegwuonu, Olalekan Adeyemi and Akintobi Akintayo and others.

The virtual space for the show, which appears like a design lifted from an animated architecture presentation, takes viewers into motion perspective visiting.

The screen takes a visitor into two rooms, showing works of mostly paintings in diverse of a single medium and mixed media.

A piece by Rabiu, titled, Weight of Depression (acrylic on canvas, 24” by 18”), depicting a woman in her home, faced with a multitude of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic was among such works on display. “The home setting and routines significantly altered,” the artist explained. “The home, her sanctuary now poses threats and challenges.” The artist noted that, like most people’s battle against mental health during the lockdown, the subject to struggles against being “crushed by the weight of her responsibilities,” and “battles to keep the pandemic at bay, slowly drowning in depression.”

For 90-year-old Liberian, Shabu, his piece titled, Bennu Birds (rising from the fire), a revisit of ancestral value went on canvas. It’s about what the artist described as “ancient myth of the Bennu Bird, which rises from the flames of destruction such as the one posed by this COVID-19 and takes its journey of transformation to a place of a continental power.”

From Odewunmi came Stay Home (digital photography, 20” x 24”), according to a note attached invokes the “feeling of happiness and calmness” using colour schemes. The artist suggested that “maybe staying at home due to the virus, isn’t bad at all.”

Vilsquare stated how the exhibition was important as efforts to sensitise the public on the raging global pandemic of COVID-19.

Using art, Vilsquare argued, was meant to inspire imagination aimed at educating and generating hope among the people. “The visual arts exhibition seeks to inform the Nigerian public and Africans in general on the issues around the pandemic while also celebrating the spirit of our resilience as a people,” stated convener, Obialunanma Nnaobi.

“As an organisation, Vilsquare is concerned about the growing socio-economic effect of the pandemic, but we are quite optimistic that humanity will win the war against the disease.”

Nnaobi, who is a co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Vilsquare, explained that the show was the organisation’s effort in documenting “the issues and perspectives of the moment, creatively fusing technology and art.”

A curatorial note from Yemisi Ola-Afolayan explained how each of the artists’ “unique medium” has been used to articulate diversity in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic narrative. “This event aligns with Vilsquare’s mandate to enable a more inclusive, sustainable society that serves all citizens.”

At the time of the exhibition, there were more than 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the African continent, with a number of countries proposing a range of prevention and containment measures against the spread of the pandemic.

“The exhibition was free for artists and attendees and Vilsquare will not be accepting a commission for any sales made,” said Nnaobi.

Other exhibited artists included Dongo Ayokunle, Yusu, David Babatunde Olatoye, Eric Gugua Achufusi, Olachi Opara, Joy Iorvihi, Mofoluso Eludire, Afolayan Ezekiel, Godwin Tom Sunday, Funmi Onidare, Alade Ifeoluwa, Olamide Agunbiade, Taiwo Adebayo, Prosper Shittu and Yemisi Ola-Afolayan.


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