Change the world

11/05/2020

Be it song, dance, mime, art, theatre or the spoken word, the visual arts have the capacity to touch – and educate the heart – like nothing else.

And so, Nelson Mandela University’s division of Arts, Culture and Heritage, is set on enhancing wellness through a series of innovative virtual interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The songs, interviews, tributes, visual story-telling, poetry and dance lined up for virtual sharing as part of the University’s #MaskUpMandela movement in the weeks ahead, should come as a panacea to written COVID-19 information overload.

“The barrage of important messaging on new (safe) behaviours and social practices, can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion.

“We want to counter this with messaging about wellness, balance and positivity to encourage methods of coping and self-control,” says Deputy-Director Arts, Culture and Heritage Ryan Pillay.

He says traditional forms of psychotherapy rely on words, but that this has its limitations.

And so, enter the Arts to provide a unique platform “where creatives can contribute to the upliftment of their communities, and of the country as a whole”.

The University’s Director of Emthonjeni Student Wellness, Phumeza Kota-Nyati acknowledges the benefits of the Arts as a therapeutic tool, adding that their Expression Through Art workshops have given students the liberty to be creative and express themselves in a safe space.

The second “arts therapy” piece being launched today, is a special rendition of Johnny Clegg’s “Great Heart” by Nelson Mandela University Choir members led by conductor Ulagh Williams.

“We are looking for fresh ways in which these beautiful voices can contribute to the campaign.”

Ulagh says it is also vital that students in the Arts continue to perform and collaborate with each other, as the discontinuation of live music leads to isolation.

“Music is a communal practise and can’t happen in a vacuum. It needs to be shared, and through these digital offerings, we hope to inspire and comfort those who feel overwhelmed by the Lockdown,” says Ulagh, adding that capturing the voices in so many locations had been challenging.

The choir is set to share another inspirational video, featuring a new arrangement of the iconic “Plea From Africa” by John Knox Bokwe. A specially composed jingle by Ulagh in collaboration with TwoTone Music is another planned item for the campaign.

The “first act” in the campaign showcased the University’s rich jazz culture as a tribute to the COVID-19 frontline workers as part of International Jazz Day on 30 April.

Other participants in the #MaskUpMandela campaign include the Ballroom Society, the Madibaz Cheerleaders and a number of poets.

“By harnessing the talents of our students, staff and various communities, we can make a valuable contribution towards wellness by keeping the arts alive,” says Mr Pillay.

He says social behaviours will need to adapt, and some will have to stop as we look at how we live and what we know of the virus at this time.

“These new cultural norms will dictate newly constructed practices, particularly in the Arts. Part of our ‘new normal’ will be creating our balance through physical, internal creative constructions.”

Some of the members of the Mandela University Choir performing Johnny Clegg's Great Heart from their homes.

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