Art in the Time of COVID

The Menomadin Team
September 3, 2020

In August 2020, a street art festival was held in Angola, one of many festivals initiated by the One Voice movement in cities across the world. In Luanda, Angola, the Fundação Arte e Cultura led the festival with 14 local artists who painted the experience of living in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and filled the streets with colors and joyous festivities. The festival won public popularity and drew media attention and coverage.

It is only appropriate to open this article with pictures, and so we will.





Even before we tell you anything about these pictures, it is apparent at a glance: Art has transformative power. And the power to generate change for the better is the essence of it all. But, as the saying goes, one picture (two, in our case) is worth a 1,000 words, and we will use them to tell you about the global street art initiative: “Change Is in Unity”, led by One Voice in 15 cities, in 12 countries across the globe in collaboration with local organizations and artists. In Angola, the Fundação, Menomadin Foundation’s subsidiary, headed this social-artistic activity in the streets of Luanda.

The time—the summer of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic is striking mercilessly. The place (of these specific pictures)—a beach in Luanda Island, a part of Angola’s capital. But, in a more extended context—the whole world.

A Crisis is an Opportunity to Grow

It is possible that the “before” picture is a fitting metaphor for the current human condition. The COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll on the citizens of the world. Humanity faces unprecedented challenges and a reality that changed from end to end in an instant. Fear has taken hold of us all. Countries impose complete lockdowns in accordance with the rise in infection rates and numbers of sick and hospitalized. Medical staff, who work hard as it is, are now called to make an effort even beyond capacity, both physically and mentally—having to part with so many patients who quickly decline; one moment, the patient is still vital and communicates, and the next, she has to be anesthetized and placed on artificial life support. And many, oh so many, die alone in wards because their families are not allowed in.

Outside of hospitals and COVID-19 wards, it is hard, too. Until now, millions have already lost their jobs. The ground is falling out from under our feet, and the uncertainty is something we all feel, even those who still have a job. The education systems worldwide transitioned to online learning. To say that online teaching solutions are not ideal is an understatement; children and youth are under a terrible strain, as many are unfamiliar with new online platforms and technologies. The elderly, warned to be careful and maintain a rigid regime of social distancing, have not met their children and grandchildren for months, not sat with them at the holiday table; they feel abysmal loneliness. There is talk about vaccinations, but when there will be any? No one knows. For how long will we have to bear this situation? No one has an answer.

Bringing solidarity at a time of worldwide uncertainty. Artist: Zbi

Bringing solidarity at a time of worldwide uncertainty.
Artist: Zbi

The virus does not stop at borders or differentiate between populations; it has no preferences, and it does not discriminate. Tourists, however, are no longer crossing borders—the skies are closed, and the massive international air traffic has stopped; pre-pandemic, it was as intensive as 18,000 planes simultaneously in the air at any given moment!

Driving the Winds of Change

When humanity encounters a shared fate, an opportunity arises for a shared faith in a greater good, a faith that transcends the crisis of the moment. And that is the moment from which the One Voice movement grows and speaks. Precisely from this challenging situation, the entrepreneurs Gil Shavit, Eugene Lemay, and Yigal Ozeri aspire to highlight the most sublime values—equality and unity—which have become so clearly manifest at this time. Through street art, they aim to promote and raise awareness of the importance of solidarity, social justice, empathy, responsibility, and mutual respect. These values, they declare, are the foundations for a better future and a human society whose resilience is in its unity.

Haim Taib, Mitrelli Group’s Chairman and the founder and president of the Menomadin Foundation and the Fundação, said: “When my good friend Gil Shavit, who lives in Peru, told me about the international movement that he helped to initiate, we immediately joined. I’ve asked my Fundação director in Angola, Naama Margalit, and my business development manager in the Ivory Coast, Eva Peled, to take the reins, and they both accepted and went on to recruit local artists’ participation. The street art festivals express the pain and the difficulties we are all grappling with, empower us, and give us hope in a time of uncertainty, and perhaps first and foremost, they light up the urban public space with color and life.”

Dr. Merav Galili, the Menomadin Foundation’s CEO, elaborated: “Israel is also among the countries participating in this initiative, under the leadership of the Or Movement, Menomadin’s partner in The Day After Coalition, another venture that aims to leverage the pandemic to strengthen society through various interventions and social programs. In Israel, of all the places, an abandoned airport in the southern city of Eilat was chosen to be transformed into a theater of performing and display arts where the artists can present the events of their times, especially this major global event of flight and tourism restrictions.”

Remember who you were before the world told you who you should be. One Voice in Eilat, Israel. Photo: The One Voice initiative Facebook page

Remember who you were before the world told you who you should be. One Voice in Eilat, Israel. Photo: The One Voice initiative Facebook page

A Picture of a Better World

Art, however, does not need a plane to cross borders. And street art, which developed from “graffiti” and is often defined as “smart graffiti”, was indeed the natural choice for this initiative. Suited both to the restrictions of COVID-19 indoor gatherings, and also as a tool to express social and political issues, it served well the initiators’ goals to praise COVID-19’s heroes, evoke thinking, and push for positive change.

Street art is not limited to painting but includes mosaic, video art, performance, photography, plastic arts, and other artistic modalities. Utilization of the urban public space—buildings and sidewalks, trains, and other areas—enables artists and art exposure to extensive crowds, much more than gallery and museums. In Angola, the initiative brought together 14 artists who specialize in various forms of visual street art, including Thó Simões, Rafa Invencible, Oksanna Dias, Noop, Eloíme Bênção, and Zbi. The street art festival, held this August in the capital city, became one of the greatest attractions in Luanda, and alongside the local public’s enthusiasm, it drew media attention and earned extensive coverage.

Hardship is an opportunity to grow. Artist: Oksanna Dias

Hardship is an opportunity to grow.
Artist: Oksanna Dias

Moreover, the use of digital means, such as live screenings and broadcasts allowed global exchanges of artwork, and thus art made in Angola, Africa, were screened in very far-off countries and continents like Cuba and America. The aim of such artwork exchanges is to bridge gaps and promote discourse and the sharing of experiences and voices.

In Luanda, the Fundação was strictly maintained COVID-19 restrictions, so the artists wore masks, and the entire festival was online. But, as in other cities across the world, there, too, what is remarkable is the artists’ choice of colors to express their emotions and the artistic and human feelings of these intense times we are living in; as if seeking to banish the sadness and loneliness through powerful colors, as if seeking to envelope the observer in their warmth.

The living force of art on the Island of Luanda. Photo by: Fundação Arte e Cultura

The living force of art on the Island of Luanda.
Photo by: Fundação Arte e Cultura

As we conclude this article, we wish to return to the picture we opened with, perhaps the most moving of the One Voice festival’s artworks in Angola, and to focus on the “after” picture. In this painting, the artists chose to commemorate two of their friends, the prominent local artists Valdemar Bashtush and Carlos Burtin, who fell ill with COVID-19 and passed away within two days of each other. As we have already stated, art has a benevolently transformative power. And here, this sad moment in the Angolan cultural world, on these previously neglected cabin walls, this sad moment became a testimony: We will never forget you, and even more, we always remember you and your vital contribution to our nation—exactly as you yourselves would do it—with color, beauty and with a smile on your faces.

The Angolan artists chose to eternalize prominent local artists who passed away from COVID.

The Angolan artists chose to eternalize prominent local artists who passed away from COVID.

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