Cape Town - Tagging, capping and bombing are not terms the average homeowner is familiar with, but it turns out putting paint techniques such as these to residential walls may just be the way to fuse society.
Graffiti, and its more grown-up equivalent of wall murals, are today emerging as a form of suburban identity with the ability to propel communities beyond crime and degradation.
Previously despised street artists are now being endorsed by neighbourhoods, even making a living through their creative energies by using city buildings as a canvas for product endorsement.
“Street art is like throwing a pebble into a pond which then creates a ripple effect,” says Derek Smith, co-ordinator of the “I Love Westdene” street art project and local resident.
“Residents have reacted positively to the pop up art works around Westdene (Joburg). It has created a sense of community and got people interacting with each other,” he says.
Since June 2015, more than 30 street murals have been created on domestic walls belonging to owners who have offered their space as a canvas in the area. Smith says some pay the artists, but mostly the graffiti writers are only too happy to have a place to practise their craft.
“It’s a magic project – you can’t measure the impact, but the response on the neighbourhood forum is extremely positive. People I have never met before have come to me asking to be involved. Clint Hill, a prominent Westdene resident kicked off this initiative with a remark on Facebook ‘Let’s Art Up Westdene’ and it grew from there.”
Smith is a photographer who has documented hundreds of street art pieces around the country as a hobby and also got to know the artists. When Hill suggested beautifying Westdene with public art, he offered to connect well-versed graffiti writers with willing home-owners by creating portfolios from which they could choose a style.
In Cape Town, similarly, Woodstock has experienced re-invigoration through the work of free-form artist Freddy Sam, whose real name is Ricky Lee Gordon. He began the community project aimed at attracting international artists and interacting with the community. He has found fame globally and recently attended the Matheran Green Festival in India. The festival is a social, cultural, educational and artistic initiative to foster awareness and encourage creative solutions for the environment.
“The experience was incredible, the conditions quite extreme, but I think everyone enjoyed my mural titled Earth – a look at the fragmentation of the relationship between humans and nature.”
Juma Mkwela worked with Sam in Woodstock and took the concept to Khayelitsha, where aspiring artists used shack walls to express their voice. He says there is a difference between graffiti and murals. “Graffiti is tagging and murals are inspirational and educational.”
Mkwela now works as a tour operator showing guests more than 30 works in Khayelitsha. “Some of the work was sponsored by corporates and some were painted by other artists who wanted to be involved in the project. The response has been great – the community is really into it.”
When grafitti artist Mars Graff was contacted by his friend Smith (who had also become known to the graffiti kinship as “Mr Baggins”) he was immediately on board.
“I feel almost as if it had been coming for a while. We express our individualism, our beliefs and our perceptions through the concept of personalising our material things for the world to see, everything from our clothing to cell phone covers and cars. Why not the outside of our homes?”
Graff says he just fell into the art form.
“By mistake, a destiny. I never imagined I would ever get this kind of reality out of life. I saw other kids doing it and wanted to take part.”
Wary of a conservative element in the suburb, Smith managed the planned roll-out carefully. “I decided I wanted to do it in a positive way – so the residents offer their walls and I find the artists, who are only too happy to be given a space to express themselves without being hassled by authorities.”
Graff says the outdoor gallery in Westdene has taken on a life of its own. “It has grown and branched out, creating amazing connections between a lot of great people from all walks of life.”
Smith says he suspected it would draw out a sense of community after photographing similar projects around the country, including Kliptown and a travelling art series by Falko called Once Upon A Town, where a series of Red Bull sponsored murals were installed in small towns around SA.
THROUGH THE AGES
Graffiti is essentially the term used for writings or drawings that have been scribbled, etched or painted on a surface, often illicitly. From the ancient form of rock art to temple etchings found in Ancient Greece and Egypt to modern free-form artworks in New York city, graffiti (singular: graffito) is a way of public expression.
Emerging in the late 20th Century alongside other pop culture activities such as b-boying and hip hop music in the seventies and eighties, graffiti formed the groundswell for larger form murals.
DID YOU KNOW?
In the height of conflict between graffiti artists they would sabotage one another’s work by “capping” it with their own signature, using techniques like throw-ups or bombing.
GRAFFITI HOW TO
1. Spray paint to achieve a sharp, 3D look.
2. Stencils made from cardboard or foam to outline a sought-after pattern make for quick work.
3. Digital images projected on to a canvas, then overlay with paint.
4. Magnetic light-emitting diodes (also known as throwies) is another form of new media.
Samantha Hartshorne, Independent HOME