Letter to Artists During Covid19

Constitution Hill: Mariapaola McGurk

Mariapaola McGurk

Coming home from a surreal experience of going to the shops, I realised what I knew clearly as a very young adult - nothing is more essential than the arts...Masks over faces, gloves on hands, signs everywhere reminding us that we must keep our distance. An eerie, overwhelming experience of what Covid19 has done to our existence and how society around the world is changed forever. Going to the shops is a horrible experience filled with anxiety and emptiness.As the world grapples with how to deal with the immediacy of this crisis from hunger to failing economies to death, the arts seem to have disappeared. In South Africa, thousands of artists are lost on how they will get through the month and if their disciplines will ever be the same. Feeling unheard, lost and disillusioned I turned to the one thing I have turned to in difficulty since my teenage years - I turned to producing art again. Unlike what The Department of Arts and Culture seems to be turning us into - we are not social cohesion and the message of hope we have been marketed as. The arts are about telling the truth, about expressions of honesty and individuality. The arts are about storytelling to a world that will come after us. Writing songs about Covid19 and drawing clever pictures of people in masks; making legible signs in all languages and proposing uplifting projects for people to engage with. No. This is the time when artists need to retrieve into themselves and share their reality and their emotion. 

I have not obsessively made art in years while trying to get a creative business off the ground. I have been distracted by everyday commitments, ambitions and toils of life. Suddenly that all seems irrelevant and the only action that will lessen the anxiety, lessen the worry is the act of creating. With few materials and three children, managing my work had to get very small. Just one piece of paper per work. I am not speaking about Covid19, I am not creating representational imagery about the virus and no I am not conceptualising what each artwork means, using clever jargon that makes me sound like a 'smart' artist. I am allowing myself to create what my mind wants to create. In this space I have complete control; cutting each line on a piece of paper, quietly allowing my heart to beat a little slower and my mind to have a chance to be focused but not reactive to the pressure of being productive in our current context.

Constitution Hill:

Art is what will express the complexity of life through this pandemic. Art is what will be used in history books when this time is spoken about and the future wants to try understanding. Art is essential and artists must get to work. The poets, musicians, writers and visual artists now is when our work is more important than ever before. Does this mean we will be paid and get help from our society – of course not unless we want to respond as we are told to - in a simplistic and obvious way. This was never an easy career to choose! 

This is the time we need to stop fighting to prove our value in society and do what we know is important - show the story through our imagery, our words, our sounds. Artists you are essential and now is the time to turn off social media, turn off the marketers we have been turned into and allow our minds, our hearts and our souls to contemplate what is happening to us and our world.

 With much love,


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