Artists against an Infodemic: The public art campaign fighting Covid-19

“Photojournalism is a universal language that has the power to demolish stereotypes to inform,” says Benjamin Petit, photojournalist and co-founder of Dysturb, an initiative that designs immersive news and photojournalism campaigns for public spaces. Launched in 2014 by a group of photojournalists and writers in Paris and New York, Dysturb has worked to raise awareness of global issues including the climate crisis, violence against women, and migration. Now, they are tackling the largest public health crisis in living memory: Covid-19.

Dysturb has already initiated activations in Paris and New York, presenting global stories by photographers including Ashley Gilbertson and Nichole Sobecki from VII, and Nina Berman from Noor, alongside infographics that address key public health messages. In collaboration with CatchLight and The Everyday Projects, the initiative is seeking to further their global activations, launching Artists against an #Infodemican open call inviting artists to submit their work, for which they will be offered $500 per visual selected.

Poster featuring an image by Ashley Gilbertson, of downtown Manhattan and Chinatown during the Coronavirus lock down in New York on 29 March 2020.

“We are constantly invaded by headlines and images, but to have these unexpected experiences in public spaces, in such a size, is powerful”

Benjamin Petit, co-founder of Dysturb
Daniel Owino, a musician who goes by the name Futwax, and his four-year-old son, Julian Austin, performs his latest ballad, “Have you sanitized?” in Kiberia, Kenya. © Nichole Sobecki / VII Photo.

Almost five months since the first official report of a coronavirus death in Wuhan, China, the virus has overwhelmed Western headlines,  dominating not just the news cycle, but also the lives of a third of the world’s population, who are currently living with some form of social restrictions. 

New York has been on lockdown for six weeks, but although Manhattan’s streets are scarce of commuters and traffic, according to Petit, the streets of Brooklyn are still busy, and on a sunny day, its parks fill with sunbathers. The situation is similar in European cities such as London and Berlin, where the cities’ youth in particular have been called out for irresponsible behaviour.

This is exactly the demographic that Dysturb is seeking to appeal to. Most of the core team have been working in the industry for many years, and during workshops, they have been astonished by how many young people do not read the news or print media. “We wanted to find a way to reconnect with a population that doesn’t necessarily read, listen to, or watch the news” Petit explains. 

Claudio Travelli, a 61-year-old Covid-19 patient rests after being seen by medical volunteers in Pradalunga, Italy on 15 March 2020. © Fabio Bucciarelli for The New York Times.
© Hugo Aymar / Haytham Pictures.

According to a study by Oxford University and Reuters, younger people are increasingly finding news through social networks and online media — a breeding ground for fake news. So it is increasingly important that people are receiving accurate information, and as many countries approach a period of “isolation exhaustion”, Dysturb wants people to engage people with this information in a new and offbeat way. 

“Displaying images in public spaces triggers an immediate response,” Petit explains. “We are constantly invaded by headlines and images, but to have these unexpected experiences in public spaces, in such a size, is powerful. I think people have a craving for physical actions like this.”

Artists can submit their work to Artists against an #Infodemic here

Above: Installations in Brooklyn, New York on 20 April 2020. © Benjamin Petit / Dysturb. Below: Installation in Paris on 22 April 2020 © Pierre Terdjman / Dysturb.

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Deputy Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.