'This represents a start to something greater': Township youth build beautiful sculpture

12 July 2019 - 13:26 By Ashraf Hendricks for GroundUp
Vrygrond resident Keemo Mowers on top of the sculpture built in the township.
Vrygrond resident Keemo Mowers on top of the sculpture built in the township.
Image: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp

“This represents a start to something greater,” says Vrygrond resident Anteeno Hendericks.

He is one of over 40 youths from Vrygrond, Capricorn and Overcome Heights that helped build a wooden sculpture which now stands tall on the corner of Prince George Drive and Capricorn Boulevard near Muizenberg.

For four weeks, youth from Vrygrond and volunteers from San Francisco have been building a sculpture made out of recycled materials such as wooden pallets and steel. Titled “The Ship of Ubuntu” , the art work is about three metres high. It has a boat shape with the face of a man in front and a collection of houses on top.

The top of "The Ship of Ubuntu" sculpture, built in Vrygrond, outside Muizenberg.
The top of "The Ship of Ubuntu" sculpture, built in Vrygrond, outside Muizenberg.
Image: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp

According to a press statement, the hull of the boat pays homage to Vrygrond’s history of being a fishermen’s village, while the houses on top symbolise the unity of the community.

For Hendericks, the sculpture represents a community that “can go anywhere”. “If we stand together as a community we can do anything,” he says.

Hendericks has been living in Vrygrond for five years and says that it has been a “struggle”. Vrygond has been hit hard by gang violence and housing problems.

Gangsters try to recruit children, he says. Through the artwork they are trying to show that there are better options than gangsterism in this world.

“There is something better than selling yourself short or going to prison for somebody else,” he says.

The art project is a collaboration with Mexican street artist Libre Gutierrez and the Sozo Foundation. Gutierrez creates artwork across the globe sometimes involving migrants and incarcerated people. Last year he facilitated and painted a colourful mural on the Vrygrond Community Centre’s walls. The sculpture was also supported by the Vrygrond Community Development Forum.

Lygia Stebbing, from San Francisco, said that a lot of people have ideas of what Vrygrond is about: that “it’s full of gangsters and drugs”, but “really the community is beautiful”.

Stebbing is one of the art work organisers from EDvance, a teachers preparation programme at San Francisco State University in California.

“People should challenge themselves beyond the stereotypes,” says Stebbing. “People may look one way but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are people to be afraid of” or “that they don't care about their community.”

Since 2012, Stebbing and her students have been running programmes in Vrygrond which include bringing in pre-school teachers from the United States.

Youth from Vrygrond with their sculpture, "The Spirit of Ubuntu".
Youth from Vrygrond with their sculpture, "The Spirit of Ubuntu".
Image: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp

One of the exchange students is Noelle Owusu. Owusu teaches children in the Bay View area in San Francisco and says that communities there face similar struggles to those in Vrygrond, including gang violence, poverty and inequality. She describes it as a “forgotten community within a very affluent resource-filled area”.

Owusu says that when you see beauty in a neighbourhood like this, it doesn’t make all the violence stop or take the trauma away “but it gives people a reminder that there is beauty in the world”.

For Randall Daniels, this artwork is a way of him giving back to the community. He says that when you search for Vrygrond online all you see is “poor people”, but when you’re inside the community “you see rainbows”.

He says that this sculpture is the community coming together with one mindset. He says they are are showing people that “there is something good coming out of this place”.

Daniels, 26, has been staying in Vrygrond his entire life. He says that at one point he was doing all the “bad stuff”. But he started working with a different group of people. “The people I was involved with didn’t allow me to be the person that I was,” he says. “They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

In the future, Stebbing hopes to take youth from Vrygrond to the US for programmes in San Francisco.

This article was originally published by GroundUp.