This article first appeared in the Sunday Times SA, on 16 April 2017
Salt River in Cape Town has undergone a hue revolution. In February, 44 street artists descended on the suburb armed with tins of paint, spray cans, brushes and masks. With tools of creativity in hand and transformation in mind, they deposited waves of colour onto the drab facades of factories, schools, parks, playgrounds, offices and homes, injecting fresh vibrancy into one of the oldest parts of the Mother City.
International Public Art Festival (IPAF)
Five years ago, the prominent South African graffiti artist Mak1One met with entrepreneurs Sébastien Charrieras and Alexandre Tilmans, the founders of the NGO Baz-art, to discuss ways to showcase outstanding South African street artists. It was time to nudge people beyond traditional galleries and draw attention to the masterpieces that exist outdoors for pedestrian pleasure in neighourhoods all over town. Their arty bosberaad led to the launch of the first International Public Art Festival (IPAF) held over ten days from 10 to 17 February in Salt River, five minutes from the CBD. Once a major hub of the steel and textile industries, it is known these days as one of the most culturally diverse and religiously tolerant areas within the metropole.
Great support from local councils and businesses
With varying degrees of support from the City of Cape Town, Departments of Heritage and Arts and Culture, the Improvement District, and a prestigious association with the Art Africa Fair that ran just after the fest at the V&A Waterfront, the festival kicked off. Apex artists Mak1, Clement Mougel (France) and WiseTwo (Kenya) and uber talent such as Jack Fox and Grant Jurius (Cape Town), Cosmic Lucky (Joburg), Ibrahim Baaith (USA), Marcelino Manhula (Mozambique) and Ana Kuni (Ukraine) shimmied up ladders, scaffolding and cherry pickers, their imaginations manifesting as remarkable stamp portraits, stencilled imagery, calligraphy, poetry, line drawings and pique assiette mosaics. Community engagement was stimulated through partnerships between residents, local cooks, small businesses and volunteers, and various fundraising efforts enabled the up-skilling of tour guides and made provision for ongoing art classes and workshops at under-resourced schools and organisations. Resident Nadia Agherdine, whose family has lived in Salt River for 60 years, said “having this public art in Salt River has put the suburb on the map and it will continue to provide opportunities for tourism in the area”.
During the International Public Art Festival in February it was inspiring for local children to see art being done in such a positive, unique and exciting way.’Between their wall-work schedules, several of the artists re-produced aspects of their wall art onto smaller 36×36 canvasses – ninety in total – for IPAF’s travelling exhibition that will have its first showing in Cape Town at the end of May before moving across to Europe and the United States.
A bit about the history of graffiti
Graffiti – street art in its original form- is said to have had its genesis in Philadelphia, USA, in 1967 when a schoolboy called Cornbread began leaving his writing on the wall so to speak. The zigzag scrawl was misunderstood by most, dissed as the anti-establishment handiwork of gangs who skulked about in hoodies after dark, shaking up their cans and spraying thick letters in subway tunnels and on trains, bridges, store roller doors and construction sites. No bare surface was safe and it was a mess, causing justifiable frustration to citizens and authorities alike. But then Banksy happened. The faceless god of street art with an exceptional and smart brand of visual poetry who famously said “speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.” Public perception of the subculture shifted, and the bad boys of tagging soon realized that skill and originality would win out over mediocrity, copycatting and sloppy scribbling. Whether self-taught or possessing fine art degrees and design diplomas, ingenuity was, and is, the game changer.
An urban asset
Street art is an integral part of modern urban culture. In every major metropolis, commissioned art is emblazoned on strategic sites for all to admire. Anyone who has stood dwarfed in front of a ten-storey high mural dripping in detail and drawn perfectly to scale, will attest to the sheer brilliance of the work. Whether the end product is message-driven, addressing socio political issues or is just there to make pretty, superb street art is inspiring and will make your heart skip a beat. The Picassos of the pavement have once again made their mark and we are all the better for it. IPAF mission accomplished.
For more info about Salt River’s street art tours, art classes, workshops and the travelling exhibition, visit www.baz-art.co.za.
Go explore the neighbourhood-it will amaze you! www.baz-art.co.za for more info about street tours and other initiatives.