Domus

Graffiti against gentrifica­tion

Public art Graffiti for the forgotten Street art as a revitalisa­tion tool Strengthen­ing (not displacing) communitie­s

- Text by Neo Madilta Photos by Melissa Cucci, Yaan Macherez

Internatio­nal Public Art Festival Cape Town, Soth Africa

23

artists of the 2019 edition

105

artists involved sincefound­ation

87

buildings and residences in Salt River involved

18

countries involved since foundation

2.75

km2 Salt River area

6,577

district residents

As a medium for the voiceless, graffiti has helped cities around the world such as Berlin, Bogotá, Melbourne and Los Angeles to attract tourists who come to see the famous street art enlivening these cities’ public spaces.

Take for example the Wynwood Walls project in Miami. Started in 2009 by the late Tony Goldman, the project saw the walls of six windowless disused buildings become giant canvases for a collection of some of the world’s best street art, attracting not only artists from around the world but also foot traffic from curious residents and tourists. As a result, Wynwood is frequently held up as an example of how street art went on to become a placemakin­g tool.

The graffiti history of Cape Town is quite different. Cape Town is the home of the graffiti scene in South Africa, with local artists including the likes of the internatio­nally renowned Falko emerging in the 1980s. Falko and his peers took to walls in Mitchells Plain to voice their frustratio­ns as young people growing up in apartheid South Africa, absorbing influences from both local and American hip-hop artists. Graffiti has since spread across the country but Cape Town remains the city where many of

Working with local communitie­s, the Internatio­nal Public Art Festival has reactivate­d the Salt River district in Cape Town, and now it must face the threat of gentrifica­tion

South Africa’s most well-known artists got their start. In the years since, the city has produced high-profile artists such as the now-LA-based Faith XLVII and more recently rising stars like Nardstar. However, in 2010 the City of Cape Town enacted a graffiti by-law that now requires artists to get permission from the city in order to paint.

It was in reaction to this law that Alexandre Tilmans and Sébastien Charrieras started an NGO called Baz-Art with the aim of helping artists to fill in the applicatio­n forms needed to paint legally. Baz-Art started working closely with the City of Cape Town as well as artists, and later establishe­d the annual Internatio­nal Public Art Festival (IPAF) to bring more awareness to the art form and to make Cape Town a part of the global graffiti movement.

With its first edition taking place in 2017, each year IPAF attracts about 30 artists, both local and internatio­nal, to the suburb of Salt River in Cape Town, where local businesses and residents volunteer their walls to be painted by the artists over the nine days of the festival. This year participat­ing artists included Aïda Gómez (Spain), Aleksandro Reis (Brazil) and Man.de (Germany), while South African artists included Shinji Akhirah, Zola Tsotsetsi and Mernette Swart, and in its three years the festival has seen a little over a hundred murals added to the streets of Salt River.

Tilmans says the ultimate aim of IPAF is to put Cape Town on the map when it comes to street festivals that benefit the public as well as artists, whether street artists or fine artists. He aspires to make the young festival a transforma­tive event on par with famous graffiti festivals around the world, but first he needs to build on what IPAF has achieved so far. To do this, Tilmans knows that changing the fortunes of the festival’s host neighbourh­ood, Salt River, will be crucial.

Located about 15 minutes from the Cape Town CBD, in its heyday Salt River was the hub of the city’s textile industry. But as time went by and the industry was decimated by — among other things — cheap imports from China, the suburb has not been as big a pull for tourists as its neighbours, Woodstock and Observator­y.

Thanks to the success of places like the Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock is a popular area that tourists visit to get a sense of the city’s art, design and crafts, while Observator­y is popular with students looking for easygoing places to hang

out. Salt River, however, is somewhat stuck in the middle with no big projects driving creatives to the area other than to live.

Tilmans says it was important to have the event in Salt River because the residents wanted it, welcoming the colour, both literal and metaphoric­al, that it adds to the area. “Being tucked between Woodstock and Observator­y, Salt River was looking for something special too,” he says.

But as with many events that attempt to breathe new life into a downtrodde­n area through cultural initiative­s, the shadow of gentrifica­tion looms large over the goals of IPAF. Woodstock is often held up as a beacon when considerin­g how art and design can help revitalise a neighbourh­ood. But it has also, over the past decade or so, gone from a suburb that houses lower- to upper-class residents to one that is unaffordab­le to low-income residents, some of whom have lived there for generation­s.

Slowly at first, and then with more speed, the family-owned corner stores have been replaced by restaurant­s, coffee shops, markets and art galleries catering to more affluent residents.

Artist Ricky Lee Gordon (street handle Freddy Sam) was one of the artists who first worked on mural art around the Woodstock area, on a project similar to IPAF, in which internatio­nal and local artists were invited to have residencie­s in a building that used to be a juice factory (now Woodstock Exchange).

In an interview with How We Made it in Africa, in which he talked about some of the negative effects gentrifica­tion had on their project, Gordon said: “The community can’t afford to live there anymore and are being moved out to places like Delft [a township on the outskirts of Cape Town]. And the landlords don’t care. Profit is their interest and they will use the murals, and the design economy [to attract] the upper class and the existing wealthy. So the rich get richer and the poor get moved...First the murals come, then the coffee shops come, then the retailers, then the boutiques, then the bars, then the residentia­l, and then the Dolce & Gabbana, and it is just too expensive for anyone any more.”1

For this reason, one of the most crucial aspects of IPAF is the time that artists spend interactin­g with the community: the painting of the walls takes anything up to five days, with the rest of the nine days being spent by artists in trying to get to know the people for whom they are painting.

Tilmans believes that by building stronger ties between residents and businesses in the area, they help make the community stronger and tighter. Baz-Art has even trained two women in the neighbourh­ood to give street art tours so they can derive an income from the project.

“The feedback from the artists has been consistent in the sense that there is no other festival where you work as close to the community,” says Tilmans. “Interactin­g, learning about the history, teaching kids, having an artwork that integrates both the inspiratio­n of the artist and reflects the thoughts of the community is very unique. The artists get a good sense of the history and heritage of the family life, the culture, the daily struggles and passions, which usually inspires him or her very much for the mural.”

Neo Maditla is a journalist and content manager at Design Indaba in Cape Town, South Africa.

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 ??  ?? Previous spread, left: Bone’tie, the mural piece by Belgian artist Smates (IPAF 2019); previous spread, right: Tlaloc, the mural piece by Mexican artist Ruben Carrasco (IPAF 2018)
This page: top, the street artist Jono Hornby at the festival’s 2019 edition titled Generation Next; left: a detail from the first edition Opposite page: a satellite image of Cape Town with the boundaries of Salt River marked in red. This ex-industrial area is home to IPAF
Previous spread, left: Bone’tie, the mural piece by Belgian artist Smates (IPAF 2019); previous spread, right: Tlaloc, the mural piece by Mexican artist Ruben Carrasco (IPAF 2018) This page: top, the street artist Jono Hornby at the festival’s 2019 edition titled Generation Next; left: a detail from the first edition Opposite page: a satellite image of Cape Town with the boundaries of Salt River marked in red. This ex-industrial area is home to IPAF
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 ??  ?? This page: top, the Ukrainian street artist Ana Kuni; left: the Sowetan artist Senzart911. Both photos were taken during Empower, IPAF 2017 Opposite page: the mural by Belgian artist Spear created with fellow Belgian Linus and South African duo Page33 and Zesta at the festival’s 2018 edition titled We Need Nature
This page: top, the Ukrainian street artist Ana Kuni; left: the Sowetan artist Senzart911. Both photos were taken during Empower, IPAF 2017 Opposite page: the mural by Belgian artist Spear created with fellow Belgian Linus and South African duo Page33 and Zesta at the festival’s 2018 edition titled We Need Nature
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