Internationally acclaimed French artist Clement Mougel works on a mural. Picture: David Ritchie/Weekend Argus

Cape Town - A row over the apparent exploitation and censorship of artists at the International Public Art Festival in Cape Town emerged this week on Facebook.

The festival has been accused of deleting comments and blocking artists who vented their frustrations in a post over dissatisfaction on remuneration at the festival.

The festival started on February 10 and ends today in Salt River. It is a graffiti, street art and contemporary urban art festival. More than 30 artists have painted the suburb. Artists and Facebook activists criticised the festival and its organisers, Alexandre Tilmans and Chantel Woodman, for exploitation.

One, Bobd Skull, posted: “This whole setup is raping the art form and artists, (a regular occurrence lately) it is a well thought of sales gimmick to lure investors in to the area under the false impression that festivals like this actually do anything for the community, we’ve been painting and working with the community for years and I can surely guarantee that once the festival ends, nothing in that area will change.”

Another, Meleney Berry-Kriel, said: “I am so done with people believing artists should work for ‘the exposure’ and I am blown over when I hear it mentioned that there’s a budget of R3m and people are still ‘volunteering’. You can die from exposure you know!”

An artist who spoke on condition of anonymity, said after he commented negatively on a post he faced serious repercussions.

“There is a lot of politics in the industry and I unfortunately commented on a post that has had some, let’s call it repercussions,” said the artist who was part of the festival.

“I received a mail informing me of the Baz-Art festival. I mailed them with my portfolio, offering to be a part. I was informed I was unfortunately late and the selection and approval phases had been done already. But I was informed should I come through to the festival on Saturday, they would find a spot for me.”

After going to the festival, with his own equipment and the “potential of cash” payment, he said: “I arrived and was greeted by Chantel, who in a very rude manner, pretty much just told me to wait, they’ll get back to me. I then obviously went and greeted the artists I know at the festival and found a general bad mood from most of them. The discussion led me to find out, that there was no financial payment for the art.

“This on its own grounds is a major issue in the industry. Exposure doesn’t feed us... On their initial post they mentioned something about an awesome investment opportunities.”

Woodman however told Weekend Argus two artists are behind the “hatred” campaign and that remunerations was never part of the package. Woodman said: “The comments being deleted is not done from our side. The discussion is open to everyone.

“The artists I have on board are happy, they feel great to have an opportunity like this. This is the only negative feedback we have received. I am really not worried about all this hatred, because we are all working together, very hard to build the community of Salt River.”

Despite the criticism, Woodman said they are expecting a huge turnout for the event’s closing today.

A response statement from Baz-Art, an NGO behind the festival, said: “It is a pity that the organisation’s intentions are being misrepresented by a small number of disgruntled individuals.

“The feedback we are getting from artists involved is that they are humbled and that they feel blessed to be part of this experience.”

It further read: “We would like to open up discussion among artists. What is your understanding of the link between gentrification and street art? For the artists involved, how do you make sense of your own work and your involvement in this event?

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Weekend Argus