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Issue 04

Drawing with the Virus: Two Years On - April 2022

Walter Hayn

Walter Hayn is an artist and a part-time art teacher who grew up in South Africa, but now lives in South East London. Please visit for high-quality images.

Brace, 23 March 2020
Hunker, 24 March 2020
Barricade, 25 March 2020

Shortly after the onset of COVID-19 in the UK, I fell ill with the deadly virus which necessitated a three-week period of self-isolation. In fits and starts, despite feeling listless and miserable, I completed the three charcoal drawings seen here: Brace, Hunker and Barricade. They seem to summarise the desperate measures being taken against the spreading virus. But the months that followed my recovery while in lockdown, proved to be a period of intense artistic output. I obsessively went about making art, to try to unravel the unnatural condition depicted by the three drawings, within the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a soaring daily death count and an uncertain future. 

Recently I came across a pen and ink drawing completed during this time, that I had disturbingly titled The Church of the Dispossessed. The concept grew out of looking at photographs of informal housing in the poorest areas of my motherland, South Africa. I was particularly burdened by the crazy logic of mandatory indoor self-isolation, for people living together in overcrowded one-room shanties, as, in a bizarre about-turn, Covid regulations were locking people in, and churches and businesses were forced to lock people out. So, my aim was to design a church for squatter camps, constructed out of the same refuse and discarded junk which, (out of sheer necessity), is used to build dwellings in these places. I modelled it on an ancient Orthodox Eastern European church, but somehow the drawing resolved itself into an austere sealed structure. Instead of an accessible beacon of hope and worship, it had become a barricaded edifice. I was perplexed and horrified by the result. 

The structure seems to act as an indictment against the church at large, as now, everywhere I look, things are strangely at odds with one another. For example, recent floods in South Africa have destroyed informal dwellings and left thousands of people bereft of shelter and belongings; and streams of refugees from the war in Ukraine are crossing borders into harbouring countries. These people are equally vulnerable and dispossessed, with no homes or churches to return to. It is as if the ravages of the Covid “flood” have laid bare the secrets and “inward-looking” myopias that the earlier drawings are hinting at. Political leaders have been found wanting, and the problems outside of our braced “bubbles” have become a dire problem within all of us: A ticking time-bomb!

(See “Drawing with the Virus” in the KLC October 2020 issue of Sibylline Leaves:

The Church of the Dispossessed, 2 August 2020