Mastercard Foundation Scholar used street art to educate and motivate community to stay safe during global pandemic.

Youth-Led Creative Enterprise Adapts to Curb the Spread of COVID-19 in Tanzania

During the global pandemic, street artists from around the world transformed ordinary buildings into vibrant canvases. Artists adorned buildings with colorful and striking murals that depict the new reality of COVID-19, while also re-enforcing the importance of practicing safety measures. 

Tanzanian born creative and alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, Emmanuel Mushy is no stranger to the art form. “Graffiti culture and art culture is well woven into our daily lives, now it is how we innovatively advocate or inspire, or take it out as an avenue to display it to the community,” Emmanuel said.   

Photo courtesy of Visual Aided Stories.

Street art is powerful tool for personal expression, creativity, and activism. Deeply rooted in graffiti culture, this influential urban art movement can be a source of social commentary and inspiration. It can connect us and empower us to think deeply and critically about the world around us. And in some cases, it can motivate people into action. 

Art as a tool for social change

Emmanuel launched Visual Aided Stories (VAS), a collaborative network of creatives, entrepreneurs, and civic innovators who use art and storytelling as a tool for social change. The initiative aims to celebrate and highlight the history and culture of pan-Africanism through art, while also showcasing local talent. But when the pandemic hit, Emmanuel had to shift focus.

Through VAS, Emmanuel collaborated with local artists to develop mural campaigns in different neighborhoods across Dar es Salam.

Using street art, they created COVID-19 inspired murals to educate and motivate the community to protect themselves and help stop the spread of virus. The first installation of the campaign was a mural of an African women wearing a mask with the message “zangitia” which means “pay attention” in Swahili. “One of the focus areas of the zangitia campaign was to empower the image and representation of African women in such a male-dominated society,” Emmanuel explains. “We thought we could tell the story of Karina as a resilient woman who despite everyday challenges, [She] still rises.”

Photo courtesy of Visual Aided Stories.

The story of Karina mirrors the reality of many women across the continent. With COVID-19 disproportionately affecting women’s livelihoods and well-being, Karina’s story takes on a deeper meaning. 

After receiving support from the Swiss Embassy and the Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF’s) COVID-19 Response Challenge, Emmanuel and his team expanded the campaign across three different districts in Dar es Salaam. 

“In the second phase of our mural campaign, we added an additional message ’huku maisha yanaendelea’ (as life continues in Swahili) which was not only educative, but inspiring,” he explains.

Targeting women-owned businesses for COVID-19 safety information

The team strategically placed the murals in busy marketplaces and neighbourhoods where most of the businesses are owned by women. 

“Women must earn a living every day to sustain their households,” by installing the murals where its visible and accessible to them “we are trying to say [although] life continues [we] must take safety precautions “zingatia, huku maisha yanaendelea”.

“We found out that our murals created familiarity and people acted accordingly,” Emmanuel said. 

People connected with the mural; it communicated the reality of COVID-19 in a way that was easy to understand. “[The murals] brought out civic dialogue, people would stop by and ask, ‘is that Corona?’ ‘are you guys saying we should pay attention?’ ‘is Corona in our community?’” 

A year later, and the Zagnitia murals remain relevant. Against the backdrop of crowded marketplaces, Karina’s mural reminds onlookers of the reality of COVID-19. 

“I am proud to support talented young artists, who have been impacted by the pandemic,” Emmanuel reflects. However, biggest challenge, according to Emmanuel, was the strong government position on COVID-19. “We had to tweak our message to align with the government stance on COVID-19,” Emmanuel details, “that’s why we included ‘life goes on’”. 

Despite this challenge, the campaign proved to be successful in educating and raising public awareness on COVID-19. The effectiveness of the campaign demonstrates the role of art and creativity as a vehicle for social change. 

“We keep referring to art as a medium, but it has many aspects to it,” Emmanuel said. “It could educate, it could inspire, it could be telling a story, it could be giving employment opportunities. You can see the different multiplier effect that art has in our community.” 

Creative industries are an untapped economic driver

“Creative industries in Tanzania are largely still unproductive, it’s a sleeping giant which is informal, and youth driven,” Emmanuel explains. “We basically have a rich pool in talent but still poor in infrastructure.” 

Emmanuel emphasizes the socio-economic potential creative industries can have by creating employment opportunities for young people and supporting the growth of the economy. Investing in innovation/hubs, like VAS hubs can help artist and creative entrepreneurs gain access to resources they need to help them scale and grow their business.  

“At VAS, we want to scale what we’ve done in Dar es Salaam and replicate the program across the continent.” 

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