Art has for a long time been taken as something that is only for fun and nothing else. It is because of this that it has ended up being sidelined when it comes to getting support.
But things are slowly changing in how people perceive art as different players are utilising it to disseminate important information on different issues to bring about change.
The results are there for people to see that art is not only there for entertainment but it has also proved to be an important vehicle of bringing awareness to the masses on issues of among others, health.
In these tough times where the world is battling the Covid-19 pandemic, various ways are being used to reach out to the population with information but art has also proved crucial.
Artists from various disciplines including musicians, poets and dramatists have risen to the occasion to produce different artworks that have helped in sensitisation and thereby bringing about change.
If only artists were given the much needed support and respect, surely many would have taken the lead in using art to tackle various issues.
Musicians Code Sangala and Annemarie Quinn are examples of artists who, using their own resources, created a non-profit making organisation – Music Against Malaria which has been in the forefront using music to fight the disease, which continues to claim lives in Africa.
Through music, Music Against Malaria has ended up mobilising resources that have been donated to some of the hospitals in the country. Art surely is not only for entertainment.
Another organisation that has utilised arts in its programmes is Adecots. It has seen the value of art and worked with different artists to reach out to the masses with key messages about Covid-19 pandemic.
Art and Global Health Centre Africa (ArtGlo) is another organisation that has showed that art deserves space and limelight, as far as tackling various issues was concerned.
The organisation has used art to discuss pertinent issues affecting the society and this time around it has made a huge step to use art to talk about mental health.
Mental health is a health issue that has not been tackled fully and yet it is crucial for people to know.
Through a project known as Zamumtima Sizawekha, ArtGlo on Wednesday engaged creative to discuss mental health.
According to ArtGlo Executive Director, Helen Todd, Zamumtima Sizawekha means “If you have a burden, you do not have to carry it on your own” in Chichewa language.
“Mental health issues have been described as a ‘Shadow Pandemic’ to Covid-19. This is why we came up with an event bringing together artists from Malawi and around the world to open the conversation about mental health and stigma,” Todd said.
She added that the project was part of ArtGlo’s week to #Act4SDGs.
Some of the artists that featured include poet Phindu Zaie, Amanda Shea, Watipaso Nungu, Kas, Chim Chisiza, That Guy & Malika and Tumaini Festival founder Menes la Plume.
Todd said in Malawi, mental health issues are not discussed and heavily stigmatised, but a growing problem, particularly among young people.
She said alarming increases in suicide rates have recently been reported.
“With few mental health professionals in Malawi, low mental health literacy, and high levels of social stigma, many young people with mental health conditions suffer in silence,” Todd said.
Through the project, university students are set to receive tailored training on mental health, Human-Centred Design and participatory arts.
“They will use this to research knowledge and perceptions about mental health in their communities, and design projects in response to the challenges identified. The peer-led approach, combined with ArtGlo’s arts-based methodology, which has proven effective at challenging stigma and developing creative responses, will allow young people to design new solutions,” Todd said.
Shea, an artist from United States of America (USA), said creating art is therapeutic and freeing.
A multidisciplinary artist residing in Boston, she is an educator who has facilitated youth workshops for spoken word poetry and public speaking.
“Through art we have the ability to express ourselves unapologetically. Art provides the freedom to display the artists’ feelings/emotions their reflecting on or experiencing at that present time. As artists, capturing the pure essence of our emotions through art allows us to connect to ourselves and others without conversation or permission,” Shea said.
Chisiza said art will always be crucial and that she was happy to be part of the discussion about mental health.
“I tend to use art as an escape, where I can go to scream out my deepest fears and pains, then later use it as a road map on the path to healing and hopefully provide a place of relatability and solace for the listener as they walk on their path,” Chisiza said.
An arts activist, actress and singer Nyokase Madise, said arts often act as a safe space for expression and connection.
“You share thoughts and feelings through art in a way you wouldn’t be able to, without feeling judged. When people connect with your work as an artist, it lets both of you know that you’re not alone- and that’s an important realisation in the realm of mental health,” Madise said.
She further, said using arts as an outlet, also helps replace potentially destructive and angry actions citing violence and substance abuse.
“Creativity is a merge of the physical, emotional and mental and so it creates balance within yourself. Acting and dancing are also great exercise if you don’t like running like me,” Madise said.
Joining the discussion, Tilinao Lamba, a Counselling Psychologist, said mental health is as important as physical health.
“And just like physical health: it can be improved and maintained. Caring for one’s mental health should be a thing of pride, not something to be ashamed of,” Lamba said.
ArtGlo Programme Manager Lekodi Magombo, said mental health is important for our communities to thrive and grow.
“We have Zamumtima Sizawekha project which we have launched and this is using art to explore mental health and open a discussion on it. We are happy to work with college students and youth in local communities to tackle stigma on mental health using a human centred approach and using arts,” Magombo said.
Menes, a multi-lingual slam poet, said the whole programme just shows the importance of art in helping people deal with mental health.
“Again, this is one of the ways to deal with mental health where one is able to express their feelings and art plays a big role in letting out deep feelings,” he said.