Traditionally, science and art have been treated as two separate disciplines, but in reality, they’re fundamentally the same. Both strive to understand and describe the world around us. Both require a great deal of creativity to make breakthroughs. Each one impacts on the other. Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) flagship education programme The Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) put this theory to the test from July to September this year, bringing scientists and young African creatives together to participate in a Covid-19: where art and science meet project. This project, funded by the African Academy of Sciences and led by SANTHE’s Dr Victoria Kasprowicz and Kim Darley Waddilove, saw scientists helping artists navigate their way through the current Covid-19 ‘infodemic’ in order to produce artworks reflecting some global truths surrounding the disease.

Through these interactions it was hoped that the artists would gain a greater appreciation of the science surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and a greater interest and understanding of science and its role in society; as well as create an impactful collection of art that would stimulate further discussions with the wider public. It was also hoped that the scientists would gain an insight into lay perspectives of the science of Covid-19 and potentially use this information to influence future research and science and policy communication efforts. A further aim was for the scientists to gain increased confidence and interest in participating in community and public engagement efforts.

“Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) is a global health emergency and although sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been spared the brunt of the pandemic so far, severe resource limitations, a unique burden of comorbidity, and poor health infrastructure make the region particularly vulnerable,” says AHRI Deputy Director (Science) and SANTHE Programme Director, Professor Thumbi Ndung’u. “There is also very little data on SARS-CoV-2 spread and disease presentation in SSA, which severely limits rational public health interventions. Infection with HIV and/or Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) are comorbidities that may potentially influence susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection and severity of infection, and emerging data supports this hypothesis. SANTHE scientists are currently engaged in SARS-CoV-2 research to understand the interplay with HIV and Mtb and in the overall public health response.  It is now a  vital time to engage with our communities to obtain thoughts and opinions and gauge levels of interest and understanding as this may influence the direction of our research,” he says.

This project called for young artists from Africa to submit creative concepts representing their impressions of the Covid-19 pandemic. SANTHE then hosted an interactive virtual workshop with scientists and artists to explore some of the more popular Covid-19 topics. The artists then created final pieces which were put on exhibit for the contemplation and enjoyment of the wider public. The exhibition can be accessed here:

” We received very positive feedback from the participants in this project, and many were very interested to take part in future projects combining art and science,” says project lead Dr Victoria Kasprowicz. The exhibition was also very popular with the general public with over 3000 individuals voting for their favourite pieces of art in the online exhibition competition.

A first prize of $1500USD to a fifth prize of $150USD, as well as several merit awards, were allocated by a panel of judges and public votes as follows:

1st: Ras Silas Motse, a South African artist based in Gauteng, for his 3×1.8m mural entitled Afrikan Geometry reborn contaminated.

2nd: Zephania Lukamba, a Kenyan artist, for her painting entitled Kwa Mamma Gili.

3rd: Geoffrey Murugami, a Kenyan artist, for his digital canvas entitled Quarantine Reveries.

4th: Doreen Atambo, a Kenyan artist, for her artwork entitled Masaibu Ya Mamma.

5th: Rhona Nantege, a Ugandan artist, for her artwork entitled Headlines.