The African Centre for Cities’ Public Art and the Power of Place project has provoked diverse results – from a burgeoning comedy scene in Khayelitsha to an alternate approach to institutional education. The fourth project covered in this series, loosely named “the township boys”, is based a little further from the great metropolitan townships of Cape Town, in Lwandle township in Somerset West. The project’s interpretation of the power of place is concentrated in a single mural, whose location is embedded in the everyday landscape of its residents.
Eight teenagers, Vuyolwethu Jongile, Sinawo Phibantu, Lutto Lumbe, Mawande Jordan, Sinovuyo Ganjana, Phaphamani Ntshwanti, Lebenya Moruri and Siphenathi Ncedana, took part in the project which was overseen by the Imibala Trust, a social movement assisting school children in Somerset West. The boys attend regular art classes at the Trust’s centre and applied to the ACC’s funding call with the concept of representing a passion they all have in common: soccer. Some of the initial ideas were to use the resulting funds to hone their skills in spray painting, a symbolic tool in the appropriation of urban spaces, and for their finished mural to occupy a prominent place along the N2, the major highway that runs from Cape Town past Somerset West.
But as is the case for most projects, the final work bore different qualities. Restrictions from the City prevented them from securing a location along the N2. The resulting search for a new location led to Lwandle’s soccer stadium, where the back of a grand stand provided a clear, cream wall overlooking the taxi rank. The project thus became less outward-facing, but embraced one of the community’s central spaces.
The choice of materials also changed. The teenagers benefited from spray can art workshops run by the African Centre for Cities’ Buntu Fihla and explored the murals in the district of Woodstock in Cape Town, renowned for its street art. Both experiences influenced their impressions of the legitimacy of street art and graffiti as art forms. But on returning to the task at hand, their chosen subject matter demanded different tools.
With the sense of place so intrinsic to the theme and the site now central to their surrounds, each artist painted a portion of the wall to reflect the way they experience their environment. The level of detail – from the distant Helderberg mountains to street soccer, schools and spaza shops – required fine paintbrushes. The overarching theme of soccer remains, with uniformed members from various teams occupying the topmost wall, frozen in play.
But the spray paint techniques were not entirely dismissed. Underneath the meticulous scenes, the artists have boldly sprayed their names. Strengthening a relationship with a place through art and authorship are not novel ideas. But attentiveness to place – one’s own place – is significant in a country whose representations of everyday life are often dismissed for sensational or polarised narratives, or stories from other places.
Siphenathi Ncedana, Mawande Jordan, Sinawo Phibantu, Lebenya Moruri, Lutto Lumbe, Vuyolwethu Jongil, Sinovuyo Ganjana, and Phaphamani Ntshwanti finished off the mural just before the end of 2015, so that many of them could take their annual trip back to their first home, the Eastern Cape. Now that school has started in the new year they have returned to Lwandle’s routines and surrounds of the taxi rank, the soccer stadium, the daily thoroughfare and play, and their own mural on the wall.
Megan Tennant is a former intern with urbanafrica.net
Photos supplied by the artists.Read older posts from this section