1st Prize: Ras Silas Motse, a South African artist based in Gauteng, for his 3x1.8m mural entitled Afrikan Geometry reborn contaminated

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.

In the summer of 2020, the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) put this theory to the test, bringing scientists and young African creatives together to participate in a COVID-19: where art and science meet project. The project was led by Kim Waddilove, SANTHE Communications Officer and Dr Victoria Kasprowicz, SANTHE Senior Strategic Advisor, and was supported by the DELTAS Africa Community and Public Engagement (CPE) Seed Fund.

This article describes their project, in which artists and scientists came together to explore perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a competition where the best pieces were voted for by the public.

Where art and science meet

    Ras Silas Motse creating Afrikan Geometry reborn contaminated

This project called for African youths 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 is displayed on our website.

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.

   2nd Prize (left): Zephania Lukamba, a Kenyan artist, for her painting entitled Kwa Mamma Gili and 3rd Prize (right): Geoffrey Murugami, a Kenyan artist, for his digital canvas entitled Quarantine Reveries.

Community engagement in the COVID-19 pandemic

“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 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.

   4th Prize (left): Doreen Atambo, a Kenyan artist, for her artwork entitled Masaibu Ya Mamma and 5th Prize (right): Rhona Nantege, a Ugandan artist, for her artwork entitled Headlines.


"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.

Find out more on the SANTHE website: artandscience.santheafrica.org

This report is part of the DELTAS Africa CPE Seed Fund Programme Hub


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