How will creativity shape our post-Covid future?
Ahead of a free panel event on 22 April, we interview several New World contributors to get their predictions for the future of creativity.
As New World, our collaboration with Today at Apple, draws to a close, we look to the future and speculate on what the role of creativity will be in the years to come. We’ll be delving into this topic in more detail during a panel discussion featuring some of the artists and designers who have led the hands-on sessions throughout the past three months: Rama Duwaji, Kris Andrew Small, Shan Wallace, Sameer Kulavoor, Liza Enebeis and Joel Gethin Lewis. The discussion will be hosted by It’s Nice That’s editor-in-chief Matt Alagiah on 22 April. Sign up here for free.
Below, we chat with the panellists and get some of their initial thoughts on how creativity will shape our future.
Creativity has long been a by-product of adversity. When things are tough, it becomes one of the strongest tools we have to tackle problems and it’s in our low moments that humans create amazing things. As the proverb goes, necessity is the mother of invention and countless innovations are a testament to the fact.
When, at the end of 2019, Covid-19 took hold, causing a seismic change across the globe, many were faced with adversity like never before. Life ground to a halt and our existence was irrevocably altered. A year littered with lockdowns ensued, providing time to reflect and gain perspective on how we could perhaps rebuild.
It’s with this newfound perspective that we now look to the future. Here in the UK, the sun is finally reappearing, the days are getting longer and we’re moving slowly out of lockdown. The anticipation is palpable, but as we emerge from our homes, we will inevitably be entering a new world. In this new world, what role will creativity play? Looking at the work the creative community has produced of late perhaps provides some hints to a new purpose: a move away from producing more things and towards being more conscious and conscientious. Instead of the never-ending pursuit of productivity, instead, we hope to value the intangible effects of creativity.
One such role that creativity has always played is in helping us to advocate for change and support important causes. This is something Sydney-based artist and designer Kris Andrew Small and illustrator and animator Rama Duwaji, who’s based in New York, exemplify in their output. While based nearly 10,000 miles apart, they share similar beliefs, particularly when it comes to how and why art allows us to connect with and process ideas. For Kris, it’s because art “has a way of being honest or conveying an emotion and making it easier for humans to connect. Humans are super emotional beings and that is the best way to connect with one another,” he says. Rama echoes this thought: “Art is all about telling visual stories, which is something people really resonate with… visual media is so important for news because that type of information can be hard to digest, so instead of large blocks of text, we can utilise illustration or animation to make things easier to take in.”
They both also agree that there’s an element of authenticity in activist art, born from the fact that a message is coming from an individual artist, not an establishment. “I believe in creating work that benefits and uplifts everyone, moving away from the elitism that some art institutions subscribe to,” says Rama. This notion is exactly why a message shared creatively can land, Kris continues, “because it’s not really coming from an authority figure, it feels more real or tangible somehow.”
The importance of this kind of creative work will only continue to grow. Over the past year, we’ve seen artists step forward and become the voices for social movements, using their work as a vehicle for change. “Art creates a discussion and a movement, it always has and it always will,” Kris reflects, posing that this will only become more relevant in the future. Rama sees the future of activism within art playing out on social media, stating how these platforms will “allow voices to be heard and stories will be shared with other people, transcending geographical borders or constraints.”
In the ensuing months and years, we are going to have to reacquaint ourselves with our environments, a challenge creativity can help with. Shan Wallace, a photographer from Baltimore has long used her practice to understand her city and the people who inhabit it. “Creativity has allowed me to be more receptive to the world I am living in, never shutting out parts of my environment,” she tells us. Lately, that’s provided a means for her to see her city more clearly, rediscovering it in a “refreshing” way. In particular, it’s allowed Shan to listen to her surroundings and the stories its occupants (past and present) want to tell: “I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the messages of the streets, like vigils, graffiti or messages written in marker… I’ve been paying attention to the old signage on historic buildings... Instead of just relying on books, I can step outside and be more aware.”
Based in Mumbai is artist Sameer Kulavoor, and parallels can be drawn between how he uses his practice to discover the stories of his community through the built environment, and how Shan does. Sameer spends time wandering the streets, and “often comes across spaces, structures and surfaces” that initially appear uninteresting. “For example, a 100-year-old building that has some structures attached to them that seem out of place; or a particular wall that has layers of peeled off posters and political messages painted over; or an industrial chimney in the middle of a prominent premium mall; or an art deco cinema from the 60s that now has a glass and aluminium composite panel facade,” he describes. “But the moment you start to wonder and question why things look the way they do, you are confronted with the reality that urban planning decisions and the way your surroundings transform are deeply connected to politics and thus to the mindset and the economic condition of the people. I am constantly peeling these layers and decoding these observations through my creative practice.”
By approaching our local communities in this way, we can create a deeper coexistence between humans and the environment – urban or rural – and reinstate a balance that has been skewed for too long. “Creativity is and has been a tool to address disparities we all face during this time,” Shan says, with Sameer adding that he hasn’t “been able to fully process [the] experience of seeing a bustling city like Mumbai completely shut during the lockdown – the humanitarian crisis that unfolded in rural and urban areas and all of that.” The shock of it has brought about a shift in his work, as he uses his practice to comprehend the changes. “A pandemic or force majeure can expose the futility of human ambition,” he continues. “This understanding can make one a little more responsible – a little more sensitive to their surroundings. This sensitivity is the premise of most of my work in the first place – a way for me to process my experiences and hopefully draw others attention to these seemingly mundane and everyday things.”
At the core of how we will rebuild in the future is a need to reconnect with each other. First and foremost, we will need to collaborate and come together, ideas that are key principles of creativity. Technology has, of course, become the way most of us have kept in touch during the pandemic and there’s a tendency to view the hours of videos calls negatively. Studio Dumbar’s Liza Enebeis believes that there have been benefits to this, though, and learnings that we should take forward into the new world. “It’s made us more human in our daily work – our digital connections gave a glimpse into our personal lives, our homes and occasionally, families,” she says. “Personal conversations have become easier because we are more accessible in a home setting than in a boardroom; traditional formalities and unspoken hierarchies seem to have diminished for a while – we are just people. I hope this openness and a greater sense of equality continues even when we have recovered from the pandemic.”
Liza continues, saying that technology has also helped break down “several barriers from geographical to economical”. By using technology, communication can be “infinite and borderless, the limitation of travel in the last year has really forced us to understand these positive alternatives. Connecting and creating across countries feels like second nature.”
Joel Gethin Lewis from Universal Everything – a studio which has pioneered a remote working set-up and a technology-led practice for a long time now – is acutely aware of the benefits and downsides of tech, remarking that “the pandemic has magnified trends that were already there in terms of doom scrolling and the like as a panacea to take our minds off existential terror.” However, through his work at Universal Everything, he’s seen how it can encourage positive forms of interaction too. Last year, the studio released Super You, an AR app that uses the latest in body tracking technology to enable users to transform a friend into one of the studio’s distinctive characters.“It was incredible to be part of a team making new digital tools to encourage analogue interactions like dancing, moving and drawing. It’s just the beginning in terms of how augmented reality can help people visualise new worlds and new ways of being in my opinion,” he says.
Technology aside, though, what creativity can offer us in the new world when it comes to reconnecting with each other is a mindset. “I realised through these times that being a designer has helped tremendously,” Liza says. “We are creative thinkers who are trained to relook and reimagine situations every day. The pandemic became a design challenge in itself.” By adopting this approach in the future – by imbuing creative thinking into every decision we make – we will be able to find solutions to almost anything. Joel reiterates this, simply stating: “Collaboration and creativity are critical to reconnection and rebuilding.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.