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Struggles of an African University Student During the Covid-19 Pandemic

For African students in foreign universities, never has it been clearer that they were indeed in foreign lands.

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Struggles of an African University Student During the Covid-19 Pandemic Asante Afrika Magazine

Rorisang Moyo

It is no coincidence that systematic inequalities reared their ugly head when our tertiary institutions were put to the test. For less privileged institutions, the Covid-19 pandemic confirmed that the institutions were on crutches and the pandemic basically took those crutches away. They were left with no leg to stand on. For various African students scattered all over the world, life touched them differently. Some encountered nuisances at close proximity with some people protesting a virus. In the same world where others could do this, some were begging to return to contact learning where online learning systems were nonexistent.

The elitism in tertiary education became clearer when universities that were historically privileged/ formally white institutions managed to transition easily from hybrid learning to online learning. This was a result of years of more allocation of resources being directed towards financing more privileged race groups. This is not an incident of history in the South African context, which means that at any given point pre-pandemic, students at historically white institutions had more resources.

When it became clear that students were not going to be having any contact lectures, the more privileged universities managed to loan laptops to students who did not have access to them. For countries that had more money to spare, data was provided for students to enable them to continue with online learning. This model of assisting the student assumed that if the student did not have a gadget for online learning, once they had it, they would be in a place with good network and electricity to power those gadgets. It assumed that a student had a smart phone to be able to use the free data that they received.

For African students in foreign universities, never has it been clearer that they were indeed in foreign lands. In cases where aid was available to them, for example, data allocation, for those who had returned to their home countries, such amenities were no longer available to them. For some students who are doing post-graduate studies, more time at home meant that they managed to think about what they could do with their degrees. It was a time to work on the hobbies that they took for granted that presented financial gain. This was particularly useful in fields like content creation where experience gained from practicing one’s craft is essential. Understand that while African students go to foreign universities for better employment prospects, legislation in those places is set up in a way that jobs prioritise locals. One has to be the best of the best to justify being chosen over a local. This pandemic frustrated students in their path of achieving greatness as many on-campus opportunities were paused, for example, societies that could have been valid work experience for their résumés.

In the haste to move out of university residences where many assumed that they were just leaving for two weeks and returning, many left their academic resources. Learning became difficult when they could not access these resources. Some had to rely on online library resources which had a time limit and some did not have access to online library resources at all.

For historically privileged universities where the poorest student would be in close proximity to wealth, they returned home to be reminded of all that they did not have. Back at the university, the access gap could be bridged through the use of on-site resources. However, when they returned home, the future was bleak once again. “No student will be left behind”, it was claimed. The truth is that despite all these efforts to equalise students, it was not easy.

For countries with less to no money at all, learning stopped indefinitely. For countries like Zimbabwe where the rural areas are places where there is no internet connection whatsoever and even where there is access to the internet, one would need to sell an organ to buy data. The online learning model itself being something that was created mid-pandemic, still a work in progress. No one was prepared for it; not the students who had to absorb the information, nor the lecturers who had to learn to teach using online resources. This is a time where tertiary institutions learnt that they were ill equipped for a pandemic. Who can blame them, considering they are located in Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs), where a vast majority of the population is living on less than a dollar a day? The situation was hopeless and all they could do was fold their arms and hope that people live through the pandemic to tell the tale.

“Even if it was baking banana bread for 100 days and having a sudden interest in colouring books – if you found something to do with yourself, that was a win.”

Amidst all this stress and confusion as to when the academic calendar would start and end, a lot of people’s mental health was on a downward spiral. The acknowledgement of their mental state and what they are feeling was dependent on their surrounding environments being conducive for them to express their feelings. Amidst financial stresses and the sense of uncertainty that came with not knowing what the future held, while faced with death and Zoom funerals amongst other tragedies, a lot of people felt as if their lives were falling apart. It took awareness to acknowledge how and what they were feeling. For some universities, mental health support was accessible through dialing in to 24-hour hotlines. While this was good in maintaining the functionality of the system virtually, it is sad to note that this wasn’t something that most institutions could provide.

What is the future of prioritising mental health in our institutions? Is mental health treated as urgently as other sicknesses that people can see like a bruise? It might look like institutions are failing students in this regard, but the fact on the ground is that there is still a lot of stigma surrounding the subject of mental health itself. There is a lack of understanding around why taking care of one’s mind is important.

It was not all doom though, many people had time to broaden their horizons in terms of reconnecting with old hobbies and starting new ones. Even if it was baking banana bread for 100 days and having a sudden interest in coloring books – if you found something to do with yourself, that was a win. Even if all you did was manage to get up, take a shower and look out the window, that is still fine. You do not have to change the world every day.

In this phase of our lives where nothing is in our hands, we learnt that tomorrow was not promised. We slowed down – and it might have come at a large financial and emotional cost, but we were lucky to survive it all.

Struggles of an African University Student During the Covid-19 Pandemic Asante Afrika Magazine

Creative Outlet

Oyedele Abiodun – Nigeria’s Master of Fine Art

His close proximity to nature and his love for outdoor features, further enhance his artistic talent.

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Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art
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“I paint what I see… by arranging colours side by side to form a unified whole; to enjoy the obvious that may be consciously hidden or otherwise. As perceived, light is the key that traverse in my paintings, unveiling the beauty of nature and its components in their various values. The world as represented by our environment, is beautiful to be a unique subject matter. ”                                         

Oyedele abiodun’s artist statement
Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
Oyedele Abiodun Fine Art:
On The Look Out, Oil on canvas, 90 x 90cm, 2019

Born in 1991, Oyedele Abiodun Oyewumi, from Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Nigeria, is a master of fine art whose talent is unmatched. Having discovered his love for Art in high school, and even as a sciences student doing maths, physics, chemistry, etc., the kind and bubbly artist went on to studied fine art at university. Fascinated by the happenings in his environment from his teenage years, his decision to pursue art as a profession was inspired simply by his love and passion for Art. His close proximity to nature and his love for outdoor features, further enhance his artistic talent.   

Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
On Her Mind, Oil on Canvas, 75cm x 60cm, 2019

When asked if he is happy with the choice that he made of not pursuing a career in Sciences and following his heart to do Art, Oyedele said he is absolutely happy with his decision, and even more so because his parents support him completely, in all ways, and they never judged him or put pressure on him to do so called “stable careers” in the sciences sector, but instead, they encouraged him to follow his heart and do what he loved and enjoyed.

Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
Behind Her Smile, Oil on Canvas, 75cm x 60cm, 2019

Oyedele graduated from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, in 2015 with a Second-Class Upper Degree in Fine and Applied Arts and a concentration in painting. He majored in Painting and minored in sculpture. Says Oyedele, “I believe Art and science goes hand in hand, in terms of material used for the creation of art, the form of Art, and the process. Science and technology give me more understanding about how art materials are made at the factory, and how they can be improvised and produced locally. For example, one would ask, “How can we make the process of creating an art piece faster, durable and efficient?” Technology has been able to answer these questions.”

Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
Her Livelihood, Oil on Canvas, 90cm x 90cm, 2019

After graduating from LAUTECH, Oyedele went on to do a year of National Service, which is compulsory in Nigeria. He served in a village called Daudawa, Faskari Local Government Area, Kastina State, Nigeria, as a class teacher in a public Secondary School. “The experience was a great one”, says Oyedele, and he was able to impact and inspire the young ones positively. He also enjoyed meeting people from a different state, who have different cultures and a different identity altogether.

Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
Hope, 90cm x 60cm, Oil on Canvas, 2019

Upon completion of his National Service, Oyedele taught Fine Art at Gomal Baptist College for a year. His focus was to help the young ones foster the same enthusiasm he has for Art. “What excited me most was the passion my students have for Art; this was expressed through their willingness to come to my office for additional drawing class during their spare time. It was a great experience.”

Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
Her Voice, Her Strength, Oil on Canvas, 90cm x 75cm, 2019

Currently, the fine art creative is actually pursuing a Master’s Degree in Technology in Painting (M.Tech.) at LAUTECH, whereupon on completion, he will emerge a true “Master of Fine Art”. M.Tech is equivalent to Master of Fine Art (M.F.A.), and it holds the same qualification advantages as the M. F. A.

Oyedele says he markets his art personally via social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and an online art gallery. Says Oyedele, “The advent of online art marketing has been a great help to the emerging artists to share their work to the rest of the world. Ultimately, it has been a real lifesaver.”

Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
The Making Of Beauty II, Oil on Canvas, 90cm x 60cm, 2019

What he enjoys the most about being an artist is the feeling of being at peace, and the sense of fulfillment whenever he finishes a piece. According to Oyedele, one of his biggest achievements as a professional artist was having one of his pieces titled ‘Catch Them Young’, recently selected for the global conversation exhibition UN75, 2020) by the United Nations. “It was a great honor”, says the artist. He has also taken part in some exhibitions, including ‘The Other Side’ (Alliance Francaise, Ibadan, 2019), ‘Broken Earth’ (Nexus Exchange Nigeria, Lagos, 2019), and an international group exhibition, ‘Seen Form’ (HYB4 Galarie, Prague, 2020).

According to Abiodun, obstacles faced as an artist in his state and in Nigeria wholly, include low patronage and very few opportunities for emerging artists. “It is very difficult financially, because you don’t always sell a piece every day”. He thinks that to address these obstacles, provision of more funds to the Art sector can be looked into, and more opportunities can be created and availed to upcoming artists.

Oyedele Abiodun - Nigeria's Master of Fine Art Asante Afrika Magazine
Catch Them Young, Oil on Canvas, 90cm x 90cm, 2019

His parting words to a young artist who would like to study art professionally but is being discouraged by family or society are, “Do what you like doing, follow your heart, don’t give up. Consistency is the key, keep at it.”

Connect with Oyedele:

oyedeleabiodun@gmail.com

www.instagram.com/oyedeleabiodunfineart

www.facebook.com/oyedeleabiodunoyewumi

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Creative Outlet

A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku

“I look around me for inspiration; I am inspired primarily by the things that happen in my community. My work is a reflection of my reality.”

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Omega Masuku Art
Omega Masuku Art
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Hazel Lifa

Of all art forms, abstract art is definitely the most subjective, and at times misunderstood. Despite this fact, Omega Masuku has stood her ground and established herself as an abstract painter. The Bulawayo based artist was born to parents Morris Masuke, a self-employed refrigerator technician, and Viola Masuku, a stay at home mom, on February 22nd, 1999 in Mount Darwin, Harare. She currently resides in Mzilikazi, and did her high schooling at Sobukhazi High.

Abstract Art

Relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures.

https://www.lexico.com/definition/abstract
A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Abstract Artist, Omega Masuku

Omega has collaborated with an impressive number of artists and participated in exhibitions internationally that have cemented her status in the Bulawayo art scene. She has worked with a number of artists like Ghislan from France, Zimbabwean artist Owen Maseko, and Charlie Bhebhe, to name just a few. Omega’s work was featured in the moving Rembrandt exhibition, which celebrated Rembrandt’s paintings’ 360th anniversary.

A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Omega Masuku Art
A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Omega Masuku Art

Omega has also donated her skills to painting workshops in hospitals, working with fellow artists from Scotland whom she went on to do an online exhibition with. She managed to squeeze in a few minutes in her busy schedule to talk to us, where she draws attention to the need for more female artists.

“Abstract art is like creating your own world, and making people live in it.”

How did you get started on your artistic journey?

I have to say art is a talent one has to be born with; l started seriously perusing art when l was 12 years old.

Did you attend school for your art, if so which one, and how was the experience?

Yes, l studied at Harare Polytechnical where I did Art and Design, and also Art and Visual Art. After graduating I moved to Bulawayo, where I went to the Mzilikazi Craft Centre and studied for a year, before I got called to work at the National Art gallery.

A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Omega Masuku Art
A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Omega Masuku Art

When did you know you wanted to do art as an actual job?

I knew in high school, in form 2. l realised that I’m always happy when I’m drawing or sketching.

What was the first-ever piece you made? What did you think about it? Do you think you did a good job?

My first piece I did was titled Broken Promises. l think it was great because I got a lot of positive feedback on the painting from my colleagues. I didn’t expect them to like it as much as they did, and that really boosted my confidence in my craft.

A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Omega Masuku Art

When you create, what inspires your work, and what is in your artistic process?

 I look around me for inspiration; I am inspired primarily by the things that happen in my community. My work is a reflection of my reality.

Abstract Art is so subjective; how do you deal with the many different interpretations of your work?

I learnt early on that art is putting myself out there, and that people have opinions, but that shouldn’t stop me from creating. Abstract art is like creating your own world, and making people live in it.

Most African people don’t see art as a practical profession, how have you dealt with this?

It’s a bit challenging and annoying (Masuku rolls her eyes), but I have tried with a few other female artists like Nhlanhla Mathe and Zanele Masuku, to introduce art at schools. I try to support young upcoming artists like myself as much as I can. Educating parents about art also goes a long way – inviting them to exhibitions and to galleries.

A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Omega Masuku Art

How did your parents feel about your choice, did they have other ideas for your future?

Actually, my mom didn’t want me to become an artist; she wanted me to be a doctor. It was a challenge to make her understand that art makes me happy, but she’s coming around.

Do you look up to other artists, and if so, who?

Yes, l do look up to my mentor, Gorge Masarira, an amazing artist and teacher.

How is the art scene in Bulawayo?

With the current economic struggles, it has been slow. Art is considered a luxury you know, and many don’t have a penny to spare. Before the covid19 pandemic, there were workshops where networking was done, I could do collaborations with other artists and galleries, and those were great opportunities for marketing one’s work. 

At times your work doesn’t qualify for an exhibition; for example, they give you a theme and a short amount of time to work on it, and your work doesn’t make the cut, which is always a downer, but you keep moving forward. Growing pains. 

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you be doing instead?

I would definitely want to still be linked to art somehow, maybe as an art teacher or a professor in Visual Art.

No job is perfect, what are some of the issues you face in your profession?

Yoh! Where do I begin?! As a female in the male-dominated Bulawayo art scene, it is hard to be taken seriously. I constantly have to put myself out there, and work twice as hard to get the same attention and credit, as a guy whose technique and skill are inferior to mine. The guys in the industry are forever trying to make things about romance, but seriously, I don’t have time for that. 

Another challenge is marketing one’s work; it’s hard to get the word out there about your art. Social media is a double edged sword, because while it promotes your work, it also opens the door to theft and plagiarism. Someone can easily take your work, change a few things, and pass it off as theirs.  

A Chat With Abstract Artist Omega Masuku Asante Afrika Magazine
Omega Masuku Art

What advice do you have for other aspiring abstract artists, or artists in general?

I will say don’t let the fear strike you down, keep on painting, you will get there. Trust your talent and avoid being in competition with everyone around you. Also, collaborations are vital in art.

Omega is also a capable fine artist, but favours abstract art more. For those interested in getting in contact with the artist for a personal piece, or collaboration, or exhibitions, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter, Omega Masuku; Instagram Natasha_natie_ or email her at simzmegarts@gmail.com.

Interviewed by Hazel Lifa

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Fashion & Beauty

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, “#IKnit”

Upcoming Civil Engineer and creative Busi Shordy Nyembe talks about her trendy fashion brand, #iKnit.

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South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
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Some may think of hand-knitting as a skill or an art which is long outdated. Having learnt the skill from her grandmother, the young and talented creative and upcoming Civil Engineer has modernised the trade, and is making fashionable pieces which appeal to the younger generation.

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe

There’s so much to say when summarising who I am and what I do… but briefly, I’d say I’m a creative at heart. Born and raised in Orange Farm and 27 years of age, I’m a full time Civil Engineering student at South West Gauteng College, a singer-songwriter, a Craft Designer, a gym fanatic, and an entrepreneur. I believe in dreams, and the sky is the limit.

Living and spending lots of time with my grandmother had me learning to do everything that she would do with her hands. My Gran used to knit duvet covers from wool, and door mats from plastic. As she would knit, I would be right there next to her, learning the craft. I remember when I was in grade 5, we had an Art & Culture project to make something hand-made; I made a colourful beanie and got full marks for it. 

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

Busi says she hand-knits all her designs, and they are inspired by the current diverse fashion trends, since her clients buy her products and wear them with other clothes that complement them pretty well. ”The patterns of my designs are made with the right size needle, so they come out beautifully. When my clients place an order, they get to be part of the design process. They get to pick their own wool colour which they would love their designs in, and that makes it special enough for them, and they have an input in the creative process. For instance, they can decide if they would like to make the ballet longer, or the socks shorter.” 

I make my designs modern by using modern wool colours and knitting patterns that complement clothes worn in the modern day era. I also do a lot of colourful stripes because they are currently the in-thing. I cater for everybody, both the young and old market, and I also have designs for kiddies.

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography#IKnit Designs

Growing up in Orange Farm within a close-knit community where almost everyone knows everyone, definitely made it easier for me to get a clientele for my products. When I was starting out the business, the marketing medium was word of mouth, and most of my clients were from Orange Farm, including people that I knew personally. It’s only when I posted on Facebook and other social media platforms that I reached a broader clientele. 

Right now I use all my social media platforms to market my products. That’s where I upload my work and that’s also where my clients post and tag, showing appreciation for my skills. Many other people see the posts, love the products and place their orders. This means of advertising is very effective and my business is definitely profitable, and it is growing rapidly.

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

Shordy says that she has not always been a patient person, but knitting has taught her to be patient. It has also taught her to be disciplined when it comes to her time management, in order to be able to study and workout. When knitting, a lot of time is spent being seated, facing down and using her hands, so she works out to stretch and relax her muscles. She says that knitting has also taught her to be calm and to respect everybody, because everyone is a potential client. 

As Shordy is the creative brain, I asked her if she has anyone who assists her with the financial side of her business and she responded… “My mother helps me out to manage the business side of the venture and her support is amazing.” Shordy believes that it’s very important for small business owners to do business literacy courses in order to better manage their finances so that they know how to use their finances to manage the growth and sustainability of the business. “Every business has 5-10years to reach their full potential, and not putting money back into the business might paralyze it,” says Nyembe.  

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

When she starts to produce her products at a larger scale, Shordy says that in order to maintain her standards and personal touch, she aims to continue treating every single order as her only order, and maintain the communication level with her clients so that they still have an input in the making process of their order, and they will still get to pick their favourite wool colour.

Knitting is a special skill which is passed down from generation to generation, and Shordy has already begun the process of teaching the skill to two young people in order to keep the craft alive.

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
#IKnit Designs: Muse – IG @Czah_themodel; Photographer – IG @Jusicenasphotography

In parting, Shordy advises young people who would love to learn a craft and make a living out of it to follow their hearts, because people will pull them astray. The most important thing, she says, is to start! “Stop over-planning and just start, you will learn everything else as you go along,” says Nyembe.

South African Designer, Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe, Talks About Her Trendy Brand, "#IKnit" Asante Afrika Magazine
Busisiwe Shordy Nyembe

Connect with Shordy through her page on Facebook, @ShordyNyembe.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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