Fwamba Mukole’s wife says he has an addiction. The signs are there: his inability to give up, the money he has admitted to spending over the years, and the urge he can’t fight to approach strangers on street corners. It is in the name of art, despite not claiming to be an official artist himself. “When I see someone talented performing to music [in public],” he says, “I feel like I should know that person, and ask them — what should I do to assist you? How can I help?”
But obsessions can have their rewards. Mukole’s has granted him funding from the African Centre for Cities’ Public Art and the Power of Place for a long-time project of his, a studio and gallery by the name of Artfricraft, which he founded in Woodstock in 2012. Lack of funds forced him to shut it down, but just like many of the effective projects selected by the ACC’s funding call, it came to life as a transitory institution through two events late last year in the Cape Town township of Delft.
In regular working hours, Mukole is a manager at the Port Elizabeth Refugee Centre. The reinvested interest in Artfricraft Studios saw him commuting to his former city of Cape Town over the weekends to support the Delft-based artists in their planning. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mukole views the studio’s two events as helping to knit the South African and foreign communities more tightly in Delft. He has witnessed the cultural cross-pollination over the time he has spent there. To him, Delft as a newer township has less hostility between communities than in older, more established townships. As a result, he feels the Congolese community views its neighbourhood as “our place to make our art, play our music, and share our culture.”
A prominent South African musician in the area now sings Congolese songs, and a South African marimba band from Nyanga comes to play at their events. One thing he admits that foreigners cannot rival is South African dancing: “Even when South Africans dance to our songs, us Congolese can’t compete,” he says.
The two Artfricraft events took place in the home of Lilly Djofy Bongania, who Mukole describes as “the master artist.” Mukole approached Bongania in a park in Durban in 1996 when he saw his talented drawings and was inspired to buy him materials for painting. Since then, Mukole has assisted numerous other artists showing talent, but lacking connections or resources. Mukole organised an exhibition for Bongania and others at the French Alliance in Durban in 2001. Now Bongania lives in Cape Town and is a renowned painter in the Delft community. His house became a living gallery for Artfricraft’s two events in late 2015.
“It spilled out into the street and everybody was invited,” says Mukole. “Even the police joined in. When we play our music, it draws a lot of crowds.” He pauses in his recounting. “I don’t know — I wish that in a year’s time, maybe next year, I will be concentrating on this full time.”
His wish reflects his first attempt at establishing Artfricraft in Woodstock. He opened it in the wake of Cape Town being awarded the title of World Design Capital 2014, with the hope of taking part in the festivities. But the experience was a disenchanting one. “I was very angry about it. I tried to put my gallery on the map,” he recalls. “Yes, I was a ‘nobody,’ but I had a gallery.”
Mukole was unable to register Artfricraft as an official partner, and he became aware of the geographical and cultural barriers that prevented the majority of the populace from participating. “Getting into a gallery — if you’re from the townships, it’s scary. If you live here [in central Cape Town], there’s no problem walking into a gallery. But when you are from the township, there’s a huge distance.”
Mukole’s “addiction” was checked during that time. “I thought the world of art was open, but art in Cape Town seems like it’s ‘sold out.’ You have to be connected. I realised that it’s very tough.”
Part of Mukole’s reason for applying for the ACC’s funding is his belief, shaped by these experiences, that art and culture can flourish in Delft. He elaborates on his vision:
“Instead of coming to town we’re going to stick here. But we want a place where people from outside will come visit. We’ll showcase our music and food because the food is great. Forget about Woodstock [and other popular places in central Cape Town] come to Delft. Drink a coffee, have some food from a mama around the corner. We want the integration of people from overseas, the suburbs, and different African backgrounds.”
Mukole now sees the potential in people and places off-centre from the traditional avenues and networks of Cape Town’s art scene. But for now his vision may only seem like a symptom of his professed “addiction.” Most Capetonians remain oblivious to the wealth of cultural capital he has come to recognise and cultivate.
Artfricraft studios was run by Fwamba Mukole, Lilly Joffy Bongania, Felix Bafukamirec, Papy Izilo Matatula, Monde Ntantala, Nomvuso Ngexa, Junior Okito and Songo Kadima, amongst others.
Megan Tennant was formerly an editorial with urbanafrica.net
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