Sleepy street wakes up to thrill of art

Cape Town - Rubasana Street used to be a sleepy area of Langa. But since 10 of its homes were turned into art galleries in October, the street has transformed into a vibey space that has won the attention of even the New York Times.

The project was one of two associated with Rubasana Street – the Mobaneng Lalela project and the Langa Quarter project – highlighted in an article in which the publication ranked Cape Town as the top destination among 52 must-see places for this year.

Tourists walk past the graffiti wall in the Langa Quarter, which forms part of the Maboneng art experience. Pictures: Jason boudThe graffiti wall in the Langa Quarter, which forms part of the Maboneng art experience.Tony Elvin, head of the Langa Quarter, who co-ordinates his efforts with Siphiwe Ngwenya in the Maboneng Art experience.These colourful patterns mark a row of houses in the Langa Quarter,which form part of the Maboneng art experience.There is a series of homes in the Langa Quarter which are currently hosting an exhibition by UK artist, Sarah Lambourne. She is seen here next to one of her art pieces and lightbox creations.Tourists walk past the graffiti wall in the Langa Quarter, which forms part of the Maboneng art experience.

The article applauds locals for seeking to rejuvenate “impoverished black-majority townships” through the two projects.

The Mobaneng Lalela project, which forms part of the Langa Quarter project, has introduced artworks to the homes in Rubasana Street. The Langa Quarter project itself focuses attention on the homes as well as various other attractions in Langa, including markets, graffiti, music, bed-and-breakfast establishments, and restaurants.

Tourists pay R100 each for a ticket to visit the galleries, with a percentage of the takings going to the homeowners.

Siphiwe Ngwenya, director of the Mobaneng Lalela project, says the New York Times article raised the status of the initiative, giving it worldwide attention and opening up new tourism potential.

An important aim, he explains, is to “create a reputable arts economy in a township space”.

They’re intent on changing the perception of Langa

as an area for “poverty tourism”.

“It’s special because you get into the skin of it all. What once was poverty is now real people working hard to get things off the ground. As a visitor, you enjoy the journey because you are not going to see just art but also the souls of the people,” Ngwenya says.

Tony Elvin, leader of the Langa Quarter project, says the area has been “really busy” since the New York Times article appeared this month. “Everyone’s really excited about it.

“More and more people are coming into the art galleries in the homes. Tourists are enjoying an authentic experience by coming into the community in a way which isn’t patronising,” he says.

Last month the Langa Quarter project also held a graffiti competition which turned a 134m wall into 17 panels of graffiti.

Elvin says a postcard set of the panels would be made and offered for sale to tourists.

The 10 families in Rubasana Street who are part of the Mobaneng project have displayed three sets of different artworks in their homes since October, including paintings on animal skin by Dathini Mzayiya and wood carvings by Velile Soha.

The latest show, which started on December 10 and ran until Thursday, was a solo exhibition by artist Sarah Lambourne, who used mixed media on paper and projected through light boxes.

Her work consists of collages that incorporate photographs, watercolour and oil paintings of bugs, flowers or butterflies, along with clippings of pictures, headlines and quotes from newspapers and magazines.

It was her first show in South Africa, after exhibiting in the UK.

“I was very keen to do something different. And the idea of showing my art in homes was amazing,” Lambourne says, referring to her work as reportage art.

“I observe what I see around me. We see stuff every day and we are consumed by it. We don’t see it again, for example a magazine. Sometimes it’s good to stop and appreciate it a bit more,” she says.

The owner of one of the homes involved, Mzumkulu Ndabula, says Lambourne’s exhibition represented “nature and love”, and that he enjoyed welcoming tourists to view the works in his home.

“It’s a good thing to mix with people from different countries. The tourists are very open and it makes me very happy to see them. My wish is for the project to grow.”

Another of the residents, Nonthando Mzukwa, says she hopes the drawings of seven-year-old son Philesande, who loves art, will also one day be exhibited in the homes. - HENRIËTTE GELDENHUYS, Weekend Argus