In Holding Together, Keeping Apart, David Pope has found a simple but potent metaphor for life in a pandemic

If there's one word that sums up what the world is going through right now, it's "together". Another word, though, is "apart".

David Popes "Holding Together, Keeping Apart" artwork.

David Popes "Holding Together, Keeping Apart" artwork.

As COVID-19 has spread throughout the world and affected almost every aspect of our public and private lives, we're all going enduring the same thing at the same time.

But because of the way viruses work, we have to do it apart - from family, friends and the general mass of people who make up our communities.

It was this dichotomy that cartoonist David Pope was trying to encapsulate for his latest illustration.

The award-winning Pope's editorial cartoons for publisher ACM appear daily in The Canberra Times and a number of the company's other daily newspapers around Australia.

Asked for his take on the coronavirus crisis, the resulting full-page artwork, titled "Holding together, keeping apart", depicts a series of life rafts bobbing on the wave of a roiling sea.

The rafts are all linked with ropes, and in the centre, a person throws a length of rope across the water, to a neighbouring raft, where another person reaches out, waiting to catch it.

"It's basically the great dichotomy isn't it, the great challenge we've got dealing with this virus," Pope said. "I was just trying to find an image that would encapsulate that - that we were all confined to our individual spheres, and that's a real problem because so much of our life doesn't work like that."

Cartoonist David Popeat work at The Canberra Times. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Cartoonist David Popeat work at The Canberra Times. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The network of lifelines between individual rafts makes a potent motif for the human connections that have become so essential to survival amid social distancing restrictions.

Pope said while many of us were fortunate in that we had homes, families and employment, just as many others were facing an immediate future that looked bleak.

"It's a sort of heaving wave that's coming through, too, in terms of the numbers affected by this thing, and we particularly see that in places like the US and Europe, and hope it doesn't overwhelm us and our systems," he said.

"I didn't want an image that looks like we're going to be smashed or destroyed by this thing, but that we're just trying to tie ourselves together so that no one gets lost through it. That's the challenge."

Pope won a Walkley Award in 2015 for his powerful 'He drew first' cartoon which went viral around the world in the hours after the deadly terrorist attack on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Most recently he produced a series of artworks - styled as vintage tourism posters under the banner "The Coast is Calling" and published in multiple ACM newspapers - to promote bushfire recovery in towns ravaged by the summer's fires on the NSW South Coast.

David Pope's beautiful South Coast is Calling images.

David Pope's beautiful South Coast is Calling images.

With Australia's tourism industry like many others severely affected by the strict health measures required to stop the spread of coronavirus, Pope said the impact of enforced physical distancing on individuals, families, workplaces and communities had to be discussed.

Although he felt comfortable working from home, away from the bustle of the office, he said he had similar family problems to many others - kids home from school, a sick and elderly mother.

As a political cartoonist, his work would always contain some kind of commentary beyond the personal.

"It's a case of everyone trying to pull together at the moment to do what's best for tackling the virus, but then there are still political decisions being made about how you best do that," he said.

"So you don't put the politics away completely, and trying to navigate that is interesting."

And then there's the sense that society is, in many ways, at sea, navigating rules that change every few days, watching numbers go up both here and overseas, as governments scramble to work out how to manage the pandemic.

"We're trying to emphasise physical distancing, but are these measures sustainable over six months? Surely we want to keep people outdoors and exercising?" he said.

"So there's a bit of pushback on some of the government's measures there, and that's going to be an interesting process as we go along.

"There's a real desire for people to want to reach out and help each other, and I don't think we've really worked out how to do that properly yet."

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This story Holding together, keeping apart first appeared on The Canberra Times.