In so far as the pandemic is a global event, it is one that reveals profound inequality. The health and economic effects of the spread of the coronavirus are not experienced equally in the global North and the global South; even within wealthy countries the burden falls most heavily on those who are already marginalised. If the ongoing catastrophe is to trigger real change, then the responses must adopt new perspectives and methods.
How should socially-engaged art contribute to this effort? This is a question that animates the enquiry undertaken by Beyond the Now and this season on ‘mutual aid’. The ‘Arts and Uncertainty toolkit’, developed by Ettijahat – Independent Culture in partnership with the British Council, provides an important example of a framework for artists to use amid the instability created by global crisis.
The project is profoundly shaped by the cultural work undertaken by Ettijahat with communities in the Syrian diaspora that followed the uprising and subsequent war in Syria since 2011. Yet, this project is not only about one crisis; it is addressed to a world that increasingly seems to run out of control, with the pandemic only the most recent and prominent symptom of upheaval.
The Arts and Uncertainty toolkit consists of theoretical and practical content, in addition to a number of case studies, all of which were designed to benefit artists at the level of practical experience first, as well as in their involvement in wider cultural discussions. The content is also designed to promote freedom of expression and enhance community-level creative projects, so that the latter can play their natural roles in influencing decision-makers and enhancing the legitimate presence of art in daily life.
The Toolkit can be read here in English and Arabic.
This video features Rana Yazaji of Ettijahat in conversation with Dr. Kim Charnley of The Open University, for Beyond the Now.