On 8 July 2021, Sbusiso Manqa released his documentary I Think I’m Depressed- Creative’s Conversation, it is a documented discussion that is included in the National Arts Festival’s (NAF) 2021 hybrid virtual experience. Manqa’s work as a South African author and filmmaker focuses extensively on mental health issues experienced by artists within the South African creative industry and economy. This discussion includes the opinions of Tsoana Nhlapo and Mojalefa Mokubung whom are both adept creative practitioners, regarding the effect of South Africa’s current creative economy on the psychological state of artists.
From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic the global economy has suffered severely; the creative industry has borne the brunt thereof heavily.
The creative industry saw a decline in revenue with immediate effect as it was not considered to be an essential service according to global lockdown regulations. Creative practitioners in the Global South, in particular, South African artists were and still are facing unprecedented financial troubles coupled with further mental health challenges. Loss of income lies at the core of the effects of the pandemic which has left creative entrepreneurs struggling through mental health issues such as depression and anxiety resultant of financial lack and work scarcity.
Interestingly, Manqa refers to the struggles faced by creatives during the apartheid regime to question whether there exists a parallel between the mental strength challenges faced by those creatives and contemporary creatives in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic. The comparative question lies in whether contemporary South African artists lack the mental strength to withstand adverse challenges compared to the pre-1994 creatives, who despite the harsh economic conditions of the time produced hopeful art.
Nhlapo and Mokubung opined that, albeit, apartheid conditions were harsh, contemporary artists face subtle yet deleterious socio-political and socio-economic issues including a market that shows little to no activity- followed on by substance abuse which are all issues that can induce a breakdown in one’s mental health; more so in the times of pandemic anxiety. Oppositely, artists face personal challenges apropos time-management, authenticity and familial responsibilities. Contemporary rap artist, Masedi Mokhothu cites his main challenges as an artist comprising of balancing making art and making money. The dilemma he argues, lies in having to make creative decisions driven by generating income expeditiously by means of producing work that will sell thus sacrificing the authenticity of his music. Mokhothu admits that he has been forced to make songs that will sell compared to making art that reflects his lived experience, consequently inducing anxiety as this work is disingenuous to his internal state which further impacts his mental health.
Reitumetse Shebe, Editor of The061 Magazine spoke on the women artist’s plight pertaining to how women in the creative space’s mental health has been affected by the pandemic and the current creative economy’s standing. Mental health issues, Shebe says are complicated further by familial responsibilities that women are burdened to carry out. Being a mother while simultaneously executing the work necessary for a creative career requires greater effort that adversely affects one’s mental wellbeing as it becomes difficult to balance making art and fulfilling one’s family responsibilities; more often than not, the creative process takes a back seat. Additionally, women in the creative industry have to consider issues pertaining to their safety (avoiding being taken advantage of) while fighting to secure equal pay as that of their male counterparts. Collectively these factors contribute to the mental health strain felt by women in the creative industry as they are both emotionally and mentally taxing.
Manqa’s closing question to the panel seeks to find specific trends that artists in the creative economy can employ to ensure their survival as creative entrepreneurs in the time of a pandemic where the baseline is making art versus making money. The panellists argue that more than merely following trends it is imperative that artists decisively, either treat their art as a business (geared at making money in the current economic standing) or as a means of providing psychological relief through artistic expression; unfortunately, it cannot be expected that in the current economic situation the two will intertwine. Artists have the agency to elect the course of their careers as creative entrepreneurs, the onus is on them to take responsibility for their agency- it could be the lifeline that preserves their mental health.
It is imperative that mental health issues and struggles form part of art discourse in South Africa, evidently artists are living under strenuous psychological conditions while attempting to establish their creative careers. There exists a greater need for supportive structures with the purpose of ensuring that artists are able to create while maintaining their mental health in a post-apartheid and post-Covid 19 South Africa. Works such as Manqa’s I Think I’m Depressed- Creative’s Conversations are a vital part of this discourse and should occur frequently; the platform provided by the NAF is a welcomed effort to fulfil the aforementioned purpose.