In 1995, Iggy Pop responded to a 21-year-old fan – Laurence, a child of an acrimonious divorce. One morning, his response arrived at her home in Paris when her family was being evicted. Amidst tears, she learned that not only did her idol punk-rocker receive the long 20-pager letter she sent to him nine months before, he had also thoroughly read it. She could have missed his response letter had it been just a day later as she was changing her address.

Iggy’s handwritten response discussed Laurence’s problems with great poise and colour, saying how he was charmed by her letter that brightened his day. He urged her to take a deep breath and do whatever she must to survive and find something to be that she can love.

Surprising was how he managed to relate to her. He mentioned that he was also miserable at her age, with a career that did not seem to be getting off the ground and financial straits that saw him living in someone else’s house. He concluded that it had been a long road since then.

“'Perforation problems' by the way means to me also the holes that will always exist in any story we try to make of our lives. So hang on, my love, and grow big and strong and take your hits and keep going,” he concluded.

Iggy is right. Life has its gaps, and as an artist, he had perhaps a more precarious career trajectory than most of us who chose a more predictable livelihood.

I had a friend who grew up with me, who wanted to be an artist and nothing else throughout his life. Yet his quintessentially “can-do” demeanour never progressed past his graduation work from art school. Ironically, it was a metaphor of his boringly repeated observation of the anatomy of people who walk barefoot.

A solo art exhibition was always in his mind, though his sketches were stranded all over his house. Sooner than later, art took a back seat to making a living. He bounced here and there doing graphics design work but nothing memorable. Unfulfilled, burning inside for never having staged his dream solo art exhibition, he passed away before reaching the age of 40.

He came to my mind when I was invited to visit an art gallery by Yenatfenta Abate. Held virtually, it was called “Free Art Felega 5.” It invited artists to express the challenges and opportunities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic through their works of art. Once a distinguished Ethiopian artist said his work of art is his as long as he finishes, giving all that he has, but thereafter it is for others to own it. This time, the art was for anyone that accessed it through the internet.

One of the showcases was by a young artist who felt denied access to the anatomy of the human mouth, on which her work focuses typically, due to the masks people wear as a result of COVID-19. Yet, she came up with the life stripping aspect of technology to the opportunity brought by lowered mobility and staying at home. It was a fitting transition, from the mouth people use to communicate to the technologies that play the upper part in disbursing information in our time.

Such opportunities, combined with technology, give access to artists and hopefuls, or anyone looking to find inspiration. My late friend would have marvelled at such a thing. These artists represent through their works the act of living, one of fear, anger, frustration, and the need for love amidst the good fight. Their work is a timely reminder to all of us in every walk of life as our certain future is on the line, with its challenges and opportunities, with or without COVID-19.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 04,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1114]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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