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Writing on the wall: Congolese murals counter COVID-19 denial

KINSHASA (Reuters) - In central Kinshasa, freshly painted murals show traditional idols wearing medical masks or applying hand sanitiser, part of an art initiative to counter public disbelief in the face of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping Democratic Republic of Congo.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The number of confirmed cases in Congo has doubled in less than a month to almost 7,000, piling pressure on the poorly equipped health system. Some hospitals have started turning patients away even as many across the central African nation remain unaware or sceptical of COVID-19’s dangers.

“Here in Kinshasa we have doubts about this illness,” said Chabani Reco, a street hawker in Kinshasa, a city of around 12 million that accounts for the majority of registered cases.

Health workers battling to stop the virus’ spread in the capital have encountered increased hostility in some communities, including kidnappings and attacks, a government committee warned in May.

After decades of perceived misrule, the political elite is seen by many as corrupt and untrustworthy.

To help counter the mistrust, a group of 10 artists has painted the wall around the capital’s Academy of Fine Arts with 12 murals illustrating the need for people to take action.

Some rework religious motifs, while others are splashed with bright colours to draw people’s attention. In one section, people bump elbows in greeting, in the background the virus is locked behind the bars of a jail cell.

Prisca Tankwey’s contribution depicts six wooden statues, iconic symbols from Congo’s pre-colonial culture, washing their hands and performing other tasks to guard against the disease.

A nkisi-nkondi, an idol whose protective spirit is said to be activated by hammering a nail into its body, is shown donning a mask.

“That is the main message, the message of protection,” Tankwey said, applying the last dabs of paint.

Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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