Covid-19 through artists’ eyes

Port Elizabeth artist Wezile Mgibe has collaborated with 10 other Bay artists in a film project documenting their experiences of Covid-19 during the lockdown
ARTISTIC LENS: Port Elizabeth artist Wezile Mgibe has collaborated with 10 other Bay artists in a film project documenting their experiences of Covid-19 during the lockdown

Bay multidisciplinary artist Wezile Mgibe has been commissioned by the University of York in the UK to present a film project documenting the Covid-19 experience though the eyes of SA artists.

Mgibe, 30, collaborated with 10 other Port Elizabeth artists across various disciplines to produce a reworked version of his Politics of Displacement — a series of multidisciplinary works in site specifics with the aim of interrogating the dynamics of site, place and culture.

The University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights commissioned the film project as part of its  initiative to support SA artists to lessen the financial  effect of the virus  and accompanying lockdown.

In Politics of Displacement, Mgibe explores the political context of moving from one country to another.

He has re-angled the work for the film project to focus on SA artists’ experience of the pandemic.

“The whole focus of the Politics of Displacement series is the reality that we are constantly negotiating space for ourselves wherever we go,” Mgibe said.

“This also applies to the time we are in now [Covid-19 lockdown] because some people are locked in spaces with people who have not accepted them for who they are, some are stuck in spaces of domestic or gender-based violence.”

Before the lockdown was implemented on March 27, Mgibe was busy with a project in Zimbabwe but  was forced to put it on hold and return home before the borders were closed.

When the Applied Centre for Human Rights called on artists globally whose work aligns with advocacy for human rights to apply for the grant, Mgibe felt his work resonated with the centre’s goal. 

He has collaborated with Bay artists Lihle Menziwa and Tobela Fudu (photographers), Nomusa Mtshali (visual artist) and performance artists Mandilakhe Gwashu,  Sinoxolo Botha, Sinethemba Qhutywa, Nkosinathi Ntlongwana, Bulelwa Majali, Mninawe Mangweni and Samkelo Phillip in the project. 

In the film, the artists reflect on how the pandemic and accompanying lockdown have affected them individually.

The audio footage is accompanied by visuals of Mgibe communicating his response in movement and gestures.

“The project was initially just for me but I later decided to collaborate with other artists,” Mgibe said.

"[This is] because now is a very difficult time for all artists with most contracts having been cancelled and we are not getting an income, so I thought this grant from the University of York could benefit more than one person,”  he said.

He said the artists were reflecting on how the lockdown was affecting their creativity.

Mgibe will submit the project to the university in June to be used for research purposes. It will be published on the centre’s website.

He will also submit the film for an online exhibition by a Portuguese art organisation.

“I was invited to submit a film for the exhibition and when the invite came, I was coincidentally already working on this film,” he said. 

The organisation has not publicly announced the selected artists yet but Mgibe has received a letter to confirm that he has been selected.

He declined to provide the value of the University of York grant.

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