BCA Lockdown Feature: Making Art In The Time of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 30
By Diane Wesh
BCA arts journalist, Diane Wesh shines a spotlight on our black creatives and how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we make art here in Aotearoa. There is no emphasis here on arts leaders, but exclusively on artists — the creators, innovators and change-makers who are transforming the world. PoC artists have always experienced a degree of social distancing, and in this feature we bring you up close and personal with some of the incredible talent in Aotearoa.
Lean in, listen closely, these are our people.
Wellington-born and Afro-Caribbean multi-media artist Sheba Williams, is embracing this COVID-19 period to curate content on her digital platforms: Facebook Live and Instagram. A live performance singer who has worked across video platforms for over a decade, Williams is currently in Sydney archiving her work - and sorely missing Jacinda at this time.
"I have re-discovered working with video by digging into my archives and publishing my works," says Williams. "I publish one short video every weekend, so that it’s curated and savored."
COVID-19 has placed a pause on our everyday lives, however Williams finds solace in isolation saying, "It’s refreshing to slow down and share something from the past."
"I feel a sense of connectivity to people
through technology and have started collaborating with a good friend in Croatia creating an artwork to share. There are so many things we will say we want to do ‘if we had the time’ and now feels like 'the time' - more than ever."
Aside from re-creating her performance videos, Williams is also using this isolation time to create meditative music as well as some new lullabies, both using her midi keyboard. She says the proliferation of talent in her house is endless at the moment especially with her, "six-year-old twins making music too" and confides, "I’m sure they will be stealing all my gigs after this."
Ultimately, Williams wants people to feel connected and positive: "What I am seeing from celebrities who don’t have access to their normally polished production values is that relatability trumps everything. I want to encourage everyone to share their own art, however 'amateur' it might seem. It is about the sharing and the relating of this experience that will get us through."
Wellington based horticultural creative and childcare specialist, Moses Ariama, has both Ghanian (from his mother) and Nigerian (from his father) whakapapa. He is passionate about children, nature and the arts and is using his time during COVID-19 to infuse together art and nature to craft meaningful experiences that reconnect him to his motherlands.
The Black Forest (also known as his man cave) is Ariama’s seven year passion project that he continuously transforms with his wife, Claire. "It’s a world of its own that has its own habitat, atmosphere and life," he says. "A place to refresh, relax and reflect. A resemblance of home."
During the COVID-19 pandemic it is this oasis of tropical green foliage and radiance that has enabled Ariama to create a retreat in unforeseeable circumstances. He says, "I have created other manifestations that reflect my homeland, for example, the African corner and terrariums but in this environment I’m also taking this opportunity to teach my sons our language: Igbo, my traditional language on my father’s side and Twe from my mother’s side."
Ariama has also created a range of Lockdown videos to give inspiration to locals. He says, "Since you’re not allowed to use playgrounds, we recommend you turn your world into a place where you can play. Use your surroundings, explore your house and your community and you might be surprised by some of the things you will discover!"
It's been a mixture of family laughs, language learning and fun and Ariama summarises his in-door activity by recounting: "I lost a game of Uno, lost in snakes and ladders, fixed the house, made impressive weapons, taught my youngest how to play chess, added decorations to my African corner and spray painted my man cave!" His message to the world at the moment is simple: "Do what makes you happy and use the time you have to plan for the future."
Auckland based multidisciplinary creative, Carlotta Adams is the founder of Afronique and a familiar face at Auckland markets, Africa Day events and her creations are also featured in Jane Benney’s store UBUNTU. Born to a South African mother and Mozambican father her roots spread far and wide including links to Malawi, Portugal, and India.
Adams has been busy channeling her energy through various mediums of art to help keep her heart and mind in a healthy space. "I work through my emotions by drawing or writing music," she explains. "At the moment, I’ve been working on my second album, ‘The Human Condition’ and its been a blessing in disguise to have this additional time."
While she’s unable to sell her jewellery through any of her usual face-to-face platforms, Adams has refused to put a pause on her business. "Despite the inability to access my usual overseas supply chain, I’ve been able to connect with local businesses who have made it possible for me to addd more creativity to my designs."
Adams further thanks the time spent in lockdown for birthing a new vision. Following her recent marriage, she is learning more about Māori culture and traditions and alongside her husband will be designing Afro-Māori pieces and incorporating different elements into her work that maintains the integrity of both cultures. “I’m excited to see the outcome of this dual approach,” she says. "I believe that honoring the indigenous culture of this land is vital. Every culture has their own sound, feel and taste, that's something to be celebrated and protected."
Adams further explains the importance of understanding the breadth of our cultural tapestries saying, "It's important to pass on the richness of our heritage to our children, so that they never forget their ancestral pathways and know their place on this whenua."
Adams aims to reflect joy and strength in her art during this COVID-19 period saying, “My prayer is that all my creations may humbly influence humanity for the better, that is my hope".
Based in Hamilton, Somali born and self-taught digital illustrator and photographer, Samiira Xaakin Wali is busy balancing this moment in history as both an essential worker and creative.
While some jobs have become uncertain and lots of people are struggling, Wali is immensely thankful to be employed. "I work full time as an essential worker and I’m doing more hours," she shares. "I feel grateful to have a job that keeps me busy and earning a stable income."
However, after work hours Wali spends her time in isolation reading books, drawing and developing her craft. “Photography is my passion right now,” she says. “I’m inspired by fashion, beauty, and my heritage.”
Wali’s Instagram showcases her commitment to capture the beauty of every individual and she hopes that her digital audience can be receptive to the innovative ways that she communicates her ideas through imagery.
This COVID-19 lockdown has seen Wali busy capturing art in all its manifestaions while she focuses on developing her photography skills. "I’m fascinated by beauty in all its forms and I hope other see themselves in my work - I have no doubt this time in isolation will influence my work and I’m hyped for what’s next for me, Insha’ Allah."
UK-born Mazbou Q is a rapper and producer based out of Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland whose ancestors rise from Nigeria. Like many other creatives, he's taking the advantages offered by the lockdown to have his own personal artist residency.
Leveraging his prolific talents in music production and fresh from the success of ‘To the Gates’ (which received over 19k views) he is spending time creating online content via social media. “I’m fortunate enough to have my studio at home,” he says. “Online content has become key in our times, so I’ve figured compelling ways to create around my studio work.”
While Level 4 of isolation requires people to stay inside, Mazbou Q sees the lockdown as a perfect time to film himself beatmaking, rapping, and singing to unlikely songs which he revamps into hip hop tracks.
For Easter, he shared his talents by uploading a new spin on Hillsong’s popular hit: “So, Will I.” He explains, “The intersection between Pan-Africanism/Black Activism and Christianity is one that many, understandably, argue shouldn’t exist. For those of us who stand in that space, it can be tremendously burdensome and traumatic task for us to work out within ourselves. At times I’ve asked myself- should I hang on faith, in light of history? But if Selassie, Harvey, Nkrumah, MLK, Tubman, Turner and many others could, then So Will I.”
While the COVID-19 lockdown continues, Mazbou Q, who has recently became a proud papa, will continue reimagining new songs for the community and the upcoming generations.
“I hope that folks feel inspired by my art and experience a drive to stretch and extend themselves in their own domains,” he shares. “I always want to see Afro-New Zealanders feel proud of their unique cultural identity.”
Ugandan born, Auckland based artist, Antonio Bukhar, should be a familiar name to those who love Afro-fusion dance. He’s the recipient of the Pina Bausch and Caroline Plummer fellowships at the University of Auckland and Otago respectively; and has been transforming digital platforms to develop his own blend of rich and engaging dance sessions. Adapting to the limitations of COVID-19, Buhkar is using his online classes in Hip-hop, contemporary, dancehall, and breaking to virtually engage with his audience.
"I engage with my communities through my Facebook page ‘Afro With Antonio’ and my personal instagram page," explains Buhkar. "My classes are pre-recorded, I put them on my website, people fill a form, and they offer a contribution - I love getting messages from those who join me whether it’s reviews, or even song suggestions."
The time granted by COVID-19 is allowing Buhkar to spend time honing his skills. "Online dance classes was something I always wanted to do but had never got to it. It’s a great opportunity and one that I am willing to continue even after COVID-19 is eradicated."
Buhkar continues to dance, record, and upload videos to enhance his well-being while contributing to the health of his audience during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Dancing is great for mental and physical well-being especially in a time where it’s limited,” he says. I want my audience to feel alive and hopeful - let’s replace fear with faith and understanding that this too shall come to pass"
Ernestina Bonsu Maro
Ernestina Bonsu Maro is a multi-faceted creative whose roots stem from the grounds of Ghana Kumasi and the Pukapuka Cook Islands.
Founder of her own business, EBM Artistry, Maro has an impressive repertoire of talents including modeling for Afrispec, hosting her own radio show 531pi, running HULAFIT dance classes and championing the community - all of which have continued during lockdown!
Her modelling career began in 2016 for a Pacific show called Akuyanga, and this quickly led to a debut for Pacific Fusion , followed by Miss Cook Islands, Miss Pacific Islands, Miss Asia Pacific International and then Queen Of International tourism.
However, Maro remains humble despite all her local and international success saying:
"Modelling is not just about your 'image' - its about cracking open diversity, breaking the norm of what should be portrayed and bringing acceptance about different shapes and sizes."
"I experienced a lot of challenges during these beauty pageants, including racism.'I wasn't light enough, my hair was different, my look wan't right' — but looking back for me, GOD really pushed and opened up an opportunity for me and for us — not just mixed folks but pushing society to develop a more inclusive understanding of beauty."
As the country has moved into their own bubbles, Maro has been focusing her energy on being the radio host and producer for 531pi, a multimedia platform that brings Pacific people together through music, news, entertainment and lifestyle stories.
"I’m currently spreading love and light through radio, dances, and podcasting about everyday topics around community and society," she shares. Sometimes the stories are not so light but for Maro they're necessary such as the bullying of a young Afro-polynesian teenager who in Rotorua. You can listen to Sahara’s full story here.
For the past two years Maro has been hosting her HULAFIT classes at the Otahuhu Youth Space but in the current climate she is harnessing the power of Facebook and engaging with her audience digitally. Her classes are "a mixture of Polynesian and acrobat exercises" and are now available online here.
"I started HULAFIT to break the norm of gym culture. We don’t need to be so competitive when working out and we can be our natural selves and have fun with it. For me, HULAFIT is to encourage society to always be fearlessly themselves all day every day."
Maro's next project is Africa Language Week which she believes is long overdue in Aotearoa. "This is an opportunity for all of us Africans here to share the rich culture we have inherited and I believe we need to be more as ONE rather than being in our different groups we have the light to ignite the world!"
Zambian-born and Auckland based artist Sarah Mwashomah, has been delving deep into photography, videography, and music during COVID-19. At this time, when clients are few and far between she’s channeling her creativity to find some respite from the stringent measures.
"Photography and music are a form of therapy and an extension of who I am," explains Mwashomah. "I like portrait, architecture, and landscape photography and I enjoy storytelling through videography. I find the layering of sound and visual effects mimic the many layers of life that make us who we are."
Mwashomah is using her time in isolation to leverage her innovative spirit by collating images that capture the various aspects of photography that she admires.
"Through my work, I like to explore meaning and life-like lessons from abstract, natural and inanimate things and I’ve begun being more consistent with portraying this," she says.
Faith is a significant feature of Mwashomah’s music and being in isolation has encouraged her to actively choose to live a life of faith over fear. Mwashomah confesses that she used to be afraid to dabble in music because she felt it was her brother’s calling and not hers, but "since COVID-19, I have come to understand that there are multiple ways we can express ourselves and that’s fine."
Taking inspiration from the opportunities offered by the isolation, Mwashomah has recently begun a visual series titled: 'Finding Your Tribe' which showcases portraits of her family and friends during lockdown. She’s excited about this project saying, "I hope that through this, people can be encouraged to look for the small and great things they can be grateful for in their relationship circles."
Mwashomah aims to encourage gratitude, strengthen faith, and instill hope amongst her audience during this COVID-19 period and beyond.
Myles Ojabo’s ancestors used to be citizens of Kwararafa (or Kororofa), a multi-ethnic state
between the 1500-1800s. Today, this Auckland based novelist holds a PhD in creative writing and is proud of his Idoma ethnicity and his people who can be found in the middle-belt region of Nigeria. He is currently using this time to continue developing his collection of fictional stories while also serving as an essential worker in the health sector. He is also the founder of the K and L Prize for African Literature.
"Contemporary and social issues inform my writing,” explains Ojabo, "I borrow a lot of settings and characters from my reality and also do the necessary research to create strong and authentic characters."
As a result of the current lockdown, all universities are currently closed which allows Ojabo a much needed break from pursuing his second Masters in Nursing Science.
While in isolation, Ojabo is using his time to revisit his older works of fiction that he had formerly abandoned. “Along with my editor, I have reworked Thread of Lies—a composition of interrelated stories built around the homophobic murder of a lesbian couple. Their deaths serve as the background and the catalyst for the narrative while the murder brings both Nigeria and New Zealand into the landscape," he explains.
Ojabo is also currently re-editing his second novel, Birthplace of Exile, a story that "explores the history and contemporary representation of confraternities in Nigerian universities."
Ojabo has already published Black River and expects varying degrees of reactions from his work and will continue to use his time in isolation doing what he loves, above all else:putting pen to paper - or more often than not, pounding the keys on his laptop.
Born and raised in New York, Tammie Crystal is an African-American creative with lineage from the Southern Bantu peoples mixed with North-Western European ancestry. She’s a proud mum, social worker and a writer, poet and static visual artist based out of Wellington.
In the times of COVID-19, Crystal is relying on her innovative spirit to merge her love of art and life skills to develop a sustainable practice - in this case a rock art series.
"I’ve been painting rocks, sourced locally, and abiding by ethical guidelines which enable these beautiful resources to remain sustainable for generations to come," she explains.
Despite the lockdown, Crystal continues to survive and thrive through social distancing by turning rocks into taonga and hiding them for people to find. "Since the lockdown I’ve been reflecting on my inter-connectedness with others and those I depend on which are black women in my network and my immediate whanau circle," she shares.
Crystal has recently begun a new rock series called 'Black Women Rock'. Her aim is simple, she shares: "My goal has been to create one 'Diva Darling' each day of the lockdown and to name each creation after different women who are ‘rocks’ in my life."
Through painting and hiding rocks, Crystal hopes to spread happiness through creativity while encouraging community through exploration.
'Gathering materials connects me to local whenua in a way that feeds my soul and enhances my mauri ora and I hope that’s reflected in the final pieces,' she says.
COVID-19’s current lockdown measures have led Crystal to a meaningful outlet that carries symbolism in the transformation process thus awarding her peace despite isolation.
Diane Wesh is a multidisciplinary creative and the proud product of tough Haitian immigrants.
American born and New Zealand based she thrives in cultural communications, strengthening relationships and creating compelling digital content.
Diane is using this time during COVID-19 to help brands pivot their online strategy to include digital multicultural and inclusive marketing.
To find out more about Diane follow along on her inspiring journey here.