COVID-19 compels Thapong to mount exhibition online

Thapong Visual Arts Centre’s first virtual art exhibition will be predicated on COVID-19


In a bid to highlight socio-economic issues brought on by the Coronavirus, Thapong Visual Arts Centre is inviting its member-artists to submit works predicated on COVID-19, The Botswana Gazette has established.

This will be Thapong’s first virtual exhibition and will be displayed on the centre’s social media platforms sometime in August but room has been left for a physical exhibition for a limited number of people.

After opening, viewing will strictly be by appointment so as to observe social distancing. “This is so that we access our audiences that are not in the country because our crafts rely heavily on tourists,” said Coordinator, Reginald Bakwena, in an interview.

“The physical opening will be for the first 75 patrons or less as per the COVID-19 health protocols where social distancing will be maintained. This exhibition will require participants to explore the theme of COVID-19 fully.”
Contemporary and fine art are among the hardest hit as art spaces were forced to close, affecting the earning of artists. The market for local art is still made up of tourists mainly but Bakwena says more and more Batswana are supporting artists and buying small crafts.

He disclosed that business came to an abrupt halt during lockdowns and the forthcoming exhibition is aimed at re-opening opportunities for the 800 plus Thapong member artists. Artists are encouraged to interpret, analyse, and project the COVID-19 situation using their creative perspectives and insight before making submissions of two artworks before 31st July 2020.

“As they say, pictures speak a thousand words,” Bakwena said. “We want these submissions to further push public information about this virus. People are more interested in images than words and this body of works should help in the government’s efforts to educate people.”

The Coordinator of Thapong noted that the pandemic has accelerated changes that were already taking shape as the number of audiences visiting physical art spaces was declining. He observed that even though online viewing does not give the physical hit of encountering a powerful artwork, it offers time and space away from the crowd to slowly inspect pieces.

“Of recent we have found ourselves in a world where we could retreat in fear or co-exist with the virus by moving digitally,” he said. “This period has redesigned the way the art world works. We have had a lot of virtual meetings with other regional curators to map a way forward in the midst of the pandemic. By the looks of things, this will be our new normal.”

While COVID-19 is having a significant impact on events planned for 2020, Thapong is not deterred from staging its annual Thapong Artist of the Year awards (TAYA) in November. “We are discussing with relevant stakeholders about the upcoming awards based on government’s directives regarding the pandemic,” Bakwena said. “We intend to stage the awards because artists have had a rough year.”