In a world that has been upended by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic this year – as livelihoods were thrashed in mere weeks, health systems put on the line, and societies thrust into fear and desperation – it may be hard to put into words the totality of its impact.
So why not try to explain it through art instead?
Traditionally, science and art have been treated as two separate disciplines, but, in reality, many would argue they are fundamentally the same.
Both strive to interpret and describe the world around us, and both require creativity to make breakthroughs.
In fact, local Afrocentric and avant-garde artist Ras Silas Motse (30) goes as far as styling himself a “socientist” because, similar to a scientist’s discoveries in a laboratory, his works are birthed in his own “lab” – his studio – and seek to place a magnifying glass on society’s most pressing questions.
Through his latest piece, titled Afrikan Geometry Reborn Contaminated, Motse has won $1 500 (R25 000) in a sub-Saharan regional project that called on artists to engage with the context of Covid-19 and create related, meaningful work.
“Through the piece, I was tackling a lot of issues around Covid-19 – it wasn’t about painting someone wearing a mask and I write the the word ‘sanitise’, you know what I mean? I decided to take a different route and look at the difficulties Covid-19 has brought to society, and that’s why I included the issues around the #ZimbabweLivesMatter movement, the US #BlackLivesMatter movement, the demolishing of houses by the Red Ants in Lawley, Gauteng, earlier this year, and government corruption – those were the issues I was talking about,” the Soweto resident told City Press this week.
The Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) made a call to artists in the region between July and September to submit pieces in its “Covid-19 – where art meets science” project, giving their impressions of the pandemic.
The SANTHE then hosted a virtual workshop with scientists and artists to explore topics related to Covid-19 and, finally, the artists created pieces that were put on an online exhibition.
The project was funded by the African Academy of Sciences and was led by the SANTHE’s senior strategic adviser, Dr Victoria Kasprowicz, and the organisation’s communication officer, Kim Darley Waddilove.
In his interpretation of the science meets art theme, Motse said he used the imagery of a magnifying glass in some of the figures in the piece, fusing that with his signature style of “Afrikan geometry” blocks.
“So what I was trying to illustrate is that each and every block in the Afrikan geometry was contaminated with small particles of coronavirus – that’s how I interpreted the whole theme.”
TROUBLED START TURNED INTO A BLESSING
Looking back at the start of this year, Motse said his rocky start turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Last year, he resigned from his teaching job at a school in Eldorado Park, Gauteng, where he had taught business studies and art for seven years, to focus on his art.
But little did he know that Covid-19 would put a spanner on the works of all his plans.
“I thought my pension money would kick in, but when Covid-19 came in, offices [to lodge financial claims] were closed, and at some point my car nearly got repossessed,” he said.
“I decided to just get into the studio and work. I had even started working as a Bolt driver to try to make money on the side to pay for the car, and, you know, when you’re focused on survival, you’re no longer making art as your main goal. So I decided that I wouldn’t sleep for a couple of days and would just get into the studio and make art 24/7.”
Motse said his aim was to make as many artworks as possible through the initial 21-day lockdown period, and he said he produced 48 artworks during those few weeks. “When the lockdown was extended, my number [of artworks] started piling up.”
The piece that won him the prize was also created during this period – and before he even knew of the competition. But, after entering the project, he decided to modify the piece to be more in line with the project brief.
And, through all the work he put in during lockdown, and by winning this prize, new avenues have started opening up for him.
“Things at first really started off badly, but now, other things have also started coming up.
“I’ve partnered with Chivas Regal and I’m collaborating with it to design some of its packaging items. I’m also working with a bottled-water company called It’s Not Made in China.
“And I was part of a Switzerland-based online exhibition. I’m working with three galleries now and it’s all so crazy, I cannot even believe it,” he said.
Motse added that, because his piece veered towards being controversial, he did not think he would win the prize, but when he found out he had, he “was over the moon”.
Kasprowicz said: “We received very positive feedback from the participants in this project, and many were very interested in taking part in future projects combining art and science.”