“Colonial Virus”: COVID-19, creative arts and public health communication in Ghana

  • Ama de-Graft Aikins Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London, Gower Street, London WCIE 6BT
  • Bernard Akoi-Jackson Department of Painting & Sculpture, Faculty of Art, College of Art and Built Environment, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana
Keywords: COVID-19, creative arts, public health communication, behaviour change, Ghana

Abstract

Since March 2020, Ghana’s creative arts communities have tracked the complex facets of the COVID-19 pandemic through various art forms. This paper reports a study that analysed selected ‘COVID art forms’ through arts and health and critical health psychology frameworks. Art forms produced between March and July 2020, and available in the public sphere - traditional media, social media and public spaces - were collated. The data consisted of comedy, cartoons, songs, murals and textile designs. Three key functions emerged from analysis: health promotion (comedy, cartoons, songs); disease prevention (masks); and improving the aesthetics of the healthcare environment (murals). Textile designs performed broader socio-cultural functions of memorialising and political advocacy. Similar to earlier HIV/AIDS and Ebola arts interventions in other African countries, these Ghanaian COVID art forms translated public health information on COVID-19 in ways that connected emotionally, created social awareness and improved public understanding. However, some art forms had limitations: for example, songs that edutained using fear-based strategies or promoting conspiracy theories on the origins and treatment of COVID-19, and state-sponsored visual art that represented
public health messaging decoupled from socio-economic barriers to health protection. These were likely to undermine the public health communication goals of behaviour modification. We outline concrete approaches to incorporate creative arts into COVID-19 public health interventions and post-pandemic health systems strengthening in Ghana.

Published
2020-12-31

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print ISSN: 0016-9560