Creativity in the Time of COVID-19

I’ve been wondering about the manifestation of creativity in these times of pandemic turmoil. This year, every day, we’ve been oscillating between peril and hope, regression and progress. Our mental health is worsening, employment has plummeted, and education is experiencing unprecedented disruption.

Everything is at a standstill, but it's also changing.

History has taught us that crises like this one are also opportunities for imagination, creativity, and experimentation, leading to new discoveries and shaping new possibilities.

These are three examples of how current COVID-19 challenges and limitations are pushing people to think outside the box.

1. Amplifying Local Voices Through Collaboration in International Photojournalism

A couple of elegant young men wearing face masks.

David Lucien Sumaili, 18, and Tumusifu Sumaili Ac-en-Ciel, 21, show off their coronavirus fashion on a street in the eastern Congolese city of Bukavu. Photo: Raissa Karama Rwizibuka for Fondation Carmignac

British-Canadian photographer Finbarr O'Reilly was supposed to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the beginning of this year.

As the 11th laurate of the Carmignac Photojournalism Award, which this year focuses on chronicling the human, social, and ecological challenges the country is facing, he was ready to start his reporting when the pandemic brought international travel to a halt. It was unlikely he'd be able to travel to DRC.

Carmignac wanted to postpone the project. But O'Reilly chose a new approach.

The result is Congo in Conversation. It's a collaboration with over a dozen Congolese journalists and photographers to include local voices and perspectives in shaping their own country's narrative.

Dismantling the systems that have traditionally excluded African photographers from global conversations about their countries requires those of us in positions of privilege to understand that structural advantages have kept us in control.
Finbarr O'Reilly

2. Recognizing Global Health Needs Resilience, Not Just More Medical Equipment

Workers manufacturing ventilator parts.

View of the production line at the Cymru Airbus plant, Broughton, North Wales, which joined the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium. Photo: Paul Thomas / Bloomberg

Earlier in the year, healthcare workers worldwide, facing medical equipment shortages, came up with ingenious solutions to maximize their available medical tools and supplies. For example, a hospital in Bologna, Italy doubled its ventilator stock by adding a circuit in one device to serve two patients rather than one.

Eventually, many countries launched manufacturing challenges and contests to cover supply gaps, which saw aerospace engineering firms, like Airbus, producing ventilator parts.

But design researchers Antonio Andreoni and Dan Hill from the University College London Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose believe the supply and manufacturing experiences from this pandemic are lessons to build resilient health care systems.

But this is only possible by adopting multidisciplinary approaches. In other words, they say that a Let's make more ventilators type of challenge, which has been a recurring event throughout this pandemic, isn't a sustainable solution that will help us in a future crisis.

[A]n all-too-simplistic focus on science, technology and engineering develops blind spots around the more ambiguous, yet equally productive, aspects of culture, policy and politics. While ventilators needed to be produced quickly, the broader issue of why ventilators were not there, to begin with, also needs addressing. That is not an engineering problem, but it can be addressed by different forms of design.
Antonio Andreoni and Dan Hill

3. Defying the Artistic Expectation to Create in Times of Turmoil

The artist posing next to one of her canvases at the Armory Show in New York City

View more of @linairisviktor's work on Instagram.

Lina Iris Viktor is a Liberian-British painter, conceptual and performance artist. She weaves photography, painting, and installation along with the ancient practice of gilding with 24-karat gold to create ususally dark artworks embedded with golden luminosity.

She's influenced by different artistic traditions, from European portraiture, classical mythology and astronomy, to ancient African symbolism. Her work is layered with cultural, historical, and material implications and notions of "blackness" as an aesthetic and socio-political reality.

As a prolific, emerging artist with numerous international engagements, the pandemic overturned her calendar, especially after she contracted COVID-19 in early March.

In June she wrote a manifesto for creativity in the age of pandemic.

In this manifesto, part meditation, Viktor challenges assumptions about the supposed creative process of artists. "It's an unspoken expectation, born of a certain romanticism," she writes, "that in times of turmoil and adversity, artists continue, even thrive."

She recognizes this might be the case for many artists – she admits to sometimes envying them.

But this manifesto is for those who, like her, are right now struggling to create. It's an affirmation that taking this time as an opportunity to feel rather than produce is okay. It's also an exhortation. "A Post-Corona art," she writes, "an answer to these turbulent times, is needed."

But first, she says, let yourself feel.

I am the first to believe that artists are the barometers of society. We take its pulse, reveal the hidden, traverse the difficult terrain of human consciousness, and reflect society back to itself in all its glory and ugliness. "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times…," said Nina Simone. And I have always agreed, but "not now" is my response.
Lina Iris Viktor

👀 Did I miss anything? Make a mistake? Let me know. Share with me your thoughts, suggestions, or critiques. Follow me on Twitter: @e_sarin. Or email me at: