There Are No Silos When We Are All Suffering: Interviews and Reflections on Ubuntu and the Arts in South Africa during COVID-19

William Kentridge- Oh to Believe in Another World

(This piece is the excerpt of the full article published in Volume 8 (2022)  issue 1 of CAET)

By Vivien Speiser and Philip Speiser


This article will draw upon some of the creative work being done in South Africa from March 2020 through December 2021, during the time of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) worldwide pandemic, by artists working across disciplines in education, community, health, and mental health. The authors had been located in Johannesburg, South Africa, in early 2020, when their stay was cut short by the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the worldwide border shutdowns that followed as they were recalled to the USA in March 2020. They have remained in communication and contact with their colleagues in South Africa, and this article is based upon these observations and interactions. This article will describe some of the initiatives and programs developed by artists in the country as well as by the faculty in the Drama for Life program at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Art Therapy program at the University of Johannesburg. These initiatives have been used toward survival and healing in this liminal space of the COVID-19 crises.


Across the world, artists, artist educators, and artist therapists are learning new strategies to carry, to hold, and to live with suffering. In South Africa as well as globally, artists are finding new ways to work with our collective stories. This has involved learning new ways of facing the losses and still being able to remember and recognize that life is still beautiful so long as we are still breathing. It is a new variation of “losing our mind and coming back to our senses,” a saying attributed to psychologist Perls et al.(1951) which became a prevalent theme in the 1960s. We are discovering new ways of using the arts as medicine in the face of illness and health-care disparities. In the midst of all this, we are all learning new survival and resilience skills that can help us thrive, learn, grow, and heal, and  ultimately,  to  transform.  This article will explore some of the ways in which the arts and artists are responding to these issues within the South African context.

These times of not knowing can be quite unsettling where everything previously taken for granted is in upheaval. As artists, some of the questions being asked include how can we continue to survive when funding is cut, and how, as therapists and care givers, can we  heal  others  when  we  too  are  suffering?  This article will share some of the innovative ways that some  of  these  South  African  creative  artists,  educators, therapists, and community workers have broken down barriers across the digital and social divides and have entered into creative new collaborations with community partners and other stakeholders to continue to serve their communities in these times of considerable duress.  The worldwide pandemic has created a breakdown in the ways in which the arts have operated in the private and public sectors, within cultural, educational, community health, and mental health systems.  Furthermore, systemic inequalities across all of these sectors have exacerbated accessibility issues. This article will describe some creative approaches to adapting existing resources across the digital divides to reach across personal, community, local, national, and international issues and boundaries.

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