With almost 70% of Sierra Leone’s population illiterate and without adequate access to electricity, watching television or listening to the radio is a luxury for many citizens. One Sierra Leonean artist is using drawings to spread coronavirus messages. Osman Benk Sankoh reports from Freetown.
Having just graduated from Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone, with a degree in civil engineering in February this year, Morrison Jusu had started sending out applications with the hope of bagging a job with one of the construction companies.
Like many Sierra Leoneans, that hope was dented when the country reported its first case of COVID-19, followed by a three-day lockdown in early April to contain the spread of the virus.
With fear, anxiety and boredom getting the better of him while holed up at home, Morrison, also known as Kontri Artist, said he was motivated to pick up his pencil and brush to lend his voice to the coronavirus cause.
“These are hard times for people all over the world and even harder times for us in these parts of the world where it is difficult to afford the basic amenities during normal times,” he told African Business.
Morrison believes, “It is my duty as an artist to shed light on these struggles, so people will know we are all in this together, and to give them hope that we will go through this pandemic.”
On how his sketches are creating an impact, Kontri Artist said, “They are serving to sensitize people about the virus and how they can protect themselves and family members and stay safe.”
His first sketch titled, ‘we are hopeful’ conveys a message of optimism. Cladded in the country’s national colours of green, white, and blue, a teary-eyed but determined female wears a mask and her right hand up as if in defiance against coronavirus.
By her side are various newspapers clipping in descending order with the last celebrating the defeat of the virus. The artist also addresses other social problems.
“I use the painting to shed light on other issues like domestic violence against women, which tends to spike during these times. I also advised everyone to keep an eye on their neighbours and to report to authorities if they notice any such acts,” he said.
The response to this piece of artwork has been great. On Facebook, Cyril Jengo writes: “This… the symbolism of optimism embedded in it…For Sierra Leone, this is an art of eternity!” Muctarr Tejan- Cole, a renowned Sierra Leonean movie star and producer, posted, “Amazing! Give us some more.” And Morrison has not stopped giving his audience some more every week from his #coronavirusportfolio.
Titled, ‘We are thankful,’ his second sketch celebrates the resilience of all frontline workers. It depicts a female health worker, security personnel, and another female holding a poster and advising all to wash their hands with soap regularly, to wear a mask, observe social distancing and to listen to the health workers.
He uses English but often switches to Krio, the country’s lingua-franca, to reinforce the message in his drawings.
“After I posted the second artwork showing appreciation to health workers and security officials for their selfless acts, I received some messages from a few doctors and soldiers thanking me for recognizing their sacrifices. They promised they would continue to do the good work, and this came to me as a surprise as I never thought my works would have such an impact.”
Kadi Sannoh, a Sierra Leonean health worker in the United Kingdom, commented: “Great work of art with a clever health promotion. Love it.”
In his third drawing, Kontri Artist depicts a woman with two kids, all of them wearing masks torn from the ‘lappa’ cloth she was tying.
The message? “In tough times like these when everyone is expected to stay at home, it is good to acknowledge single mothers who abandon everything else, even sometimes risking their own lives, for their children.”
Since making his breakthrough at an art exhibition in Freetown in 2016, Morrison has not stopped using his paintings to promote social issues. In an earlier painting, he depicts the daily challenges faced by Sierra Leonean youths, he told African Business.
His painting role models include Renaissance Artists such as Michael Angelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci, Nelson Makamo of South Africa, and Angelo Scott, from Sierra Leone.
Kontri Artist has vowed not to put down his pencil and brush until COVID-19 is defeated.