Feeling good 'beyond covid': Ghanaian artists explore the purpose of art in times of crisis

By Sela Kodjo Adjei





The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on African economies. In Ghana, one of the most hard-hit sectors of the economy has been the creative industries. With limitations on human movement and social gatherings during the lockdown a series of conversations began among artists on how to lift the barriers off creative freedom. Conversations addressing such socio-economic issues within Ghana’s creative industries forms part of the research interests of the Advancing Creative Industries for Development in Ghana (ACIG) research project.


Why artists create

Rania Odymatt, one of the founding members of the Beyond Collective, explained in an interview that sparking the conversations that led to the Beyond Covid Exhibition was a necessary step. According to Rania, she initiated the conversations to know why some artists have lost their sense of purpose. Rania wanted to discuss with young artists in Accra to really understand the purpose of art in these difficult times:


I wanted to understand why some artists were finding it very difficult to get out of bed with all the commissions cancelled and art exhibitions halted. The social crisis generated a lot of questions and every day you start asking yourself ‘why do we create?’. We create to survive, we create for some people to go out of prison, we create to articulate who we are and we create to show the invisible, we create to build bridges, we create to tell stories.


Rania revealed that the main goal was to generate ideas on how being creative could benefit artists, forge family ties and rebuild communities in times of crisis. This self-reflective moment led to an artist group think experiment that produced several interesting ideas about the purpose of art and the role of artists in society. It started off as the ‘Feeling Good Project’ with creative inspiration from Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ song. Rania and the participating artists explored ideas on how artists could feel better but at the same time not feel terrible due to the pandemic. This dialogue, according to Rania, produced positive responses and generated great support among the participating artists.


The 'BeyondCovid' exhibition

Based on the responses generated from the dialogue, the 10 artists agreed to stage a fundraising exhibition themed 'BeyondCovid'. The BeyondCovid exhibition held in November 2020 in Accra was meant to explore how artists could feel good about creating art and not feel guilty about the impoverished communities collapsing around them. Another reason for staging the fundraising exhibition was to use the part of the proceeds to support the underprivileged who had been adversely affected by the pandemic within their local communities.


But the artists themselves were struggling a lot and were facing challenges which led to very difficult conversations. This further triggered disagreements, criticism and mixed feelings about how artists could support their local communities and survive at the same time. These hard talks led the artists to produce strong independent works.


Works from the exhibition

Nea ekoso wo abonten by ArtSoul Kojo


Self-taught artist, ArtSoul Kojo’s Nea ekoso wo abonten, explores the visual expression of repressed feelings, emotions and the artist’s personal reaction to regained creative freedom. According to ArtSoul Kojo, the colourful expressions captured in the painting symbolises the sense of freedom and how emotions were let loose as the lockdown and restrictions were lifted. The work was painted during the latter part of lockdown period when Kojo was finally able to step out for essentials. His work tries to convey that emotional experience.


Afternoon in Green Portrait of Sanusi by Tjasa Rener


During the lockdown period in Accra, Tjasa Rener found herself experimenting with figurative sketches with her model Sanusi. According to Tjasa, they both used this needed creative companionship as a great learning exchange. This symbiotic relationship eased the boredom and isolation. While the paintings and drawings were being produced, interesting conversations ensued. They both drew inspiration from each other through a natural connection of growth and mutual benefit.


Scape Goat by Nana Opoku


Nana Opoku’s digital illustration was produced during the lockdown period. The work emerged while Nana was contemplating on Nina Simone’s feeling good song. According to Nana, as he delved deeper into the ‘feeling good’ mode, the form that emerged served as a temporary escape route from the claustrophobia of isolation.


Sea Never Dry by Rania Obymatt


Taking inspiration from the Akan adage ‘Sea never Dries’, Rania Obymatt’s installation explores the process of self-abandonment to the unknown. It relates to notions of infinite abundance, wholeness and wellbeing. A trust in the inner creative spirit and a connection to the higher enlightened self. The installation also includes a series of Rorschach style paintings made with Rania’s less dominant left hand.


Rorschach Paintings by Rania Odymatt