Tribute to Lesley Perkes
ACROSS a king-sized concrete bed in the heart of Troyeville, hundreds of butterflies will be strewn to remember someone special.
It has been two years since Lesley Perkes died, and tomorrow afternoon the people she touched as an artist or friend will gather to remember her at the bed she made so famous.
That king-sized bed complete with concrete-creased sheets and a duvet half slipping off the mattress sits in Panorama Park, where Lesley once lay and gave readings in just a nightie.
The bed is known as The Troyeville Bedtime Story, and the idea, according to Lesley, was to make it a place where people could come and maybe have their portraits taken, do performance art or just simply hang out.
She had rallied the Troyeville community to make the bed. Artist Johannes Dreyer worked the concrete, neighbours supplied water and made tea for the thirsty.
It is Dreyer who over the last couple of days has been cleaning off the graffiti tags that now cover the bed. They feel it is fitting that they gather here at the site of her most famous contribution to Joburg’s public art scene.
Each of the hundreds of butterflies will be made by children from the Hillbrow Theatre outreach programme and fashioned from recycled paper.
It is the brainchild of public artist Sanae Sawada, who met Lesley when she first arrived in Joburg in 1995.
“Why I’m here is in part because of Lesley. It has been an interesting journey,” explains Sawada, who flew from Cape Town for the memorial. Lesley helped Sawada to open up to people, and shrug off the conformity of her native Japan.
It was Lesley, she explains, who gave her the confidence to transform herself into a public artist.
And to honour her friend, Sawada will cover Lesley’s bed with the origami butterflies that have become her trademark.
Sawada explains the symbolism: “Everyone loves butterflies. It is at the bed where the dreams start. Dreams have four seasons. There is the egg season, the planting of seeds, the caterpillar season, where you work hard, the pupa season where it looks dead but a lot is going on internally.
“Then the butterflies are a result of all those processes. It also means nothing is permanent.”
Poet Phillippa Yaa de Villiers is another person who was touched by Lesley.
“She kick-started my career. She told me once that I was a poet and I needed to pursue that.”
For many artists, De Villiers explains, they got their first big pay cheques after getting commissions organised by Lesley.
“A drama queen, an organiser, a well-wisher, an eternal optimist, a big mouth and the strongest heart of all. Lesley’s dreams were so big we could all fit in.
“She invited us to dream with her and sail along on the silk of stuff and nonsense,” is how her big sister, Jaqueline Perkes, remembers her.
Lesley l eft her mark across Joburg, either through assisting artists or through work she did herself. There were the 20 000 yellow hands that waved at motorists passing through Gillooly’s Interchange, the creation of artist Strijdom van der Merwe. “She wanted to turn the city into a gigantic art gallery,” says De Villiers.
But Lesley’s one dream is unlikely to be realised. At the time of her death from cancer on February 12, 2015, Lesley was negotiating with the City of Joburg to paint the Hillbrow Tower. It had long been her goal in the rough suburb she had grown to love.
The Hillbrow Tower may not get that coat of paint, but for those gathering at Lesley’s bed tomorrow, there will be other projects inspired by her.
“She may have passed away, but she is everywhere,” says Sawada.