From music and fine arts to theatre and photography, Langa township has produced many firsts and greats.
And now the oldest township in Cape Town boasts a world-class art gallery that seeks not only to showcase the works of local and great artists, but also to position Langa as an art destination.
The art gallery, 16 on Lerotholi, is nestled among small business ventures on a tiny street, but has attracted many visitors since it started in 2019.
Inside the building, the blue walls are adorned with pieces by well-known artists such as Langa’s own Mongezi Gum, Gugulethu-born Ricky Dyaloyi, Benjamin Furawo, Phillemon Hlungwani, Teresa Kutala-Firmino, Blessing Ngobeni, Speelman Mahlangu, Ignatius Mokone and Breeze Yoko.
Their artwork forms part of the “Abantu Bethu” (Our People) exhibition which celebrates the rich and diverse cultural heritage of African people.
Taking place in the year in which Langa celebrates 100 years, the exhibition, according to the co-founders, also serves as a platform to “reflect on the different phases of the township and its people, the pain and suffering” and is also a celebration of resilience and diversity.
“It’s about celebrating our own people. Townships were never designed to be spaces for people to prosper. We wanted to change that narrative,” said co-founder Mpilo Ngcukana.
Growing up surrounded and influenced by music, dance and visual arts, it seemed natural for the four co-founders of 16 on Lerotholi, Ngcukana, his brother Khanyo, Thulani Fesi, and Shaun Williams, to lean towards art.
Not far from where they stayed were the famous jazz musician Fitzroy Ngcukana and the legendary musician, Brenda Fassie.
“African people have always celebrated arts and culture in many forms. And we saw a need to create a platform to celebrate what we regard as old concepts in new language,” said Fesi.
After the gallery was established in 2019, just a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the young entrepreneurs also saw a need to start a coffee shop in the same space to provide a space for people to have conversations and reflections.
“With regards to the art gallery we had a vision of raising the bar high, showcasing investment art but also bringing emerging and established artists together. Within a few months of opening the doors, we saw a footfall of over 1 700 people,” added Fesi.
The Covid-19 period meant a halt to the gallery’s plans, but the positive reception provided the young entrepreneurs strength to weather the storm.
A chance meeting with Charles Shields, group chief executive officer of Everard Read, Africa’s oldest commercial art gallery, led to a collaboration between the two.
“They are incredibly brave and ambitious. I could see what they were up to, and because we’ve been in the business of creating an oasis where people can contemplate life, meet and have intellectual conversations, the idea of an art gallery in Langa resonated with us. I spent my youth in townships like Tembisa and Katlehong in Gauteng and Khayelitsha, Langa in Cape Town trying to find contemporary voices of Africa through visual arts. I’ve been mentored by artists and it’s now time to give back,” said Shields.
“He understood our vision, what we were trying to achieve and our values. He and his staff have been our mentors and the learning curve has been extremely valuable. The relationship has enabled us to tap into their collectors’ base and has expanded our reach.”
“As we reflect and celebrate Langa’s 100 years, we also want to map out how we want the next 100 years to look like. The development of Langa is the bigger goal. And that’s what drives our commitment and investment in the art space,” said Ngcukana.
On the cards is a fountain eatery at the back of the building where a vegetable garden was also started as a catalyst to creating a green and clean space.
“The richness of Langa is in the people. It’s a melting pot of people from different backgrounds. Through the art on display, we see the many ways in which African people have expressed and celebrated their identity over the years, and we are reminded of the richness and diversity of the African experience,” said Ngcukana and Fesi.
“Abantu Bethu” exhibition runs at 16 on Lerotholi until May 24.