And so we are all cowed into submission by the coronavirus, and everyone is fighting to keep body and soul together. The fact that everyone is fighting to live is understandable as no one had an opportunity to prepare for this. It is an existential struggle even, if you like.
However it is also times like these where opportunities also present themselves, and already others have seen opportunities where many see gloom. Unfortunately not every opportunist will take advantage ofa situation for the good of society, or for a need that is beyond themselves and their close families. This explains why even during this lockdown, for example, some are making a killing through overcharging for basic products, while others were quick to create the dreaded black market, selling prohibited goods such as alcohol and cigarettes at exorbitant prices. The demand though is always there for such goods.
However it is also times like these when artists should prevail and shine light on our wretched lives through composing soulful and healings songs, writing heart touching poetry, painting genuine art pieces that are not influenced by financial consideration, art that speaks to the soul and ventilates on the challenges that society is facing.
In a country like South Africa, which has the unenviable label of being the most unequal society in the world, this ugly reality is so glaring during this time for everyone to see. Its ugly face cannot longer be hidden anymore.
But the question is where are our genuine artists to capture this moment on canvas, on song, in poetry in prose? It is too late to wait until the pandemic is over and the difficulties have been overcome to start creating art that will outlive all of us for the generations to understand deeper how we responded to this life threatening tiny virus.
An example of this kind of art is the one that is created by one French –Danish conceptual artist known as Thierry Geoffroy / Colonel.
Geoffroy / Colonel, who comes from a French family with military background (his father was a senior French army soldier), is a true art rogue
and maverick. He believes in the extreme contemporariness of art. He believes in art that is immediate and captures the current issues within a space of 24 hours, and he has been pushing the envelope for this kind of art around the world for years now.
In 2016, I had an opportunity to observe Geoffroy / Colonel.with a group of Danish and South African artists at work at the now defunct Museum of African Design in Maboneng. Accompanied by curator Tijana Miskovic, this artist gave a hard time to the group of artists working with him for a week, demanding that they create meaningful art within 24 hours whether it is an installation, a drawing or a panting. And goodness the artists created marvelous works that captured the subliminal and subtle social undercurrents of South African society. Whether it was the controversial issues of the so called farm genocide or the hidden hand of gentrification behind the glorious public face of the current developments in Maboneng, the artists prevailed with meaningful art under extreme pressure from Geoffroy / Colonel. He almost drove some artist to tears because of his honest assessment of their work.
It therefore did not come as a surprise to me to hear that Geoffrey/Colonel is at it in Denmark during this time of the coronavirus, creating work that deals with the challenges that come with social distancing regulations.
Using his famous umbrellas as his canvas on which he writes intellectually stimulating words, Geoffroy / Colonel.’s current body of work could be a lesson to other artists, particularly in South Africa about how to respond to the pandemic.
Geoffrey/Colonel is asking such probing questions in the face of the coronavirus restrictions such as: How far is empathy? What is essential now? The emergency will replace the contemporary.
The big question now is: Will our artists emerge to tackle the subtle social issues that have since emerged during this pandemic, for it is that kind of brave art that will inform generations to come of these difficult times long after the conronivirus is a fading social episode of human history?