Faith XLVII is breaking down walls for female street artists everywhere
Having once struggled to make a name for herself in a male-dominated world, this local artist's name is up there with the likes of Banksy
If you've travelled along the N1 in Cape Town from the Waterfront to the Southern Suburbs in the past six years, you'd have seen a large mural of a woman in a turban holding cut sugar cane, with a floral pattern behind her and a triangle on her chest. If you passed the image at night, you'd have seen lights forming a circle like a low constellation.
If you passed the Warwick Triangle in Durban next to the Early Morning Market you'd see, on each pillar of the overpass, a giant, meticulously formed figure standing proud and tall over the informal sellers. They are portraits of some of the traders in the area, a tribute to the everyday people on the street.
If, instead, you were in Joburg, you'd have seen groups of men in various postures of waiting adorning the city's crumbling walls: "Miners are waiting for justice. Workers are waiting for a living wage. People are waiting for service delivery. Refugees are waiting for assistance. Men are waiting for jobs. We are all waiting for an honest politician. To build the country. To admit defeat. There has been so much waiting in this country that much time has been lost," says the artist behind all of these public-space street murals, Faith XLVII.
Having first become part of the street-art scene by writing graffiti and thus becoming part of the Hip Hop movement that was happening in SA when she was a teenager, Faith XLVII had no formal training in art.
"I was interested in the Hip Hop scene because it was one of the few youth movements that was cross-cultural. It introduced me to different neighbourhoods and the demographics of different communities I hadn't had access to," she says. "Instead of formal training. I feel like I studied in public."
Since her early work on the streets of SA, Faith XLVII has become one of the best known street artists in the world, alongside names like Banksy, Swoon and JR. She's collaborated on global projects, reaping press and praise wherever her art has taken her, most recently to Cognac in France to become the first woman to design a label for the Hennessy Very Special Limited Edition in the brand's tradition of fostering partnerships with artists who are part of a global movement.
Of this collaboration she says: "I was interested in how Hennessy's approach and process to making their product relates to my own ethos. I see that the process of creating the final solution is one similar to alchemy, taking raw ingredients and transforming through delicate natural processes to create the ultimate 'gold'. My artistic process is similar, taking base inspirations and reflections and through the creation of an artwork a transformation happens."
She says the artwork for the bottle was inspired by old alchemical manuscripts and Eastern and Western esoteric time maps and sundials linking to the idea of taking time to create what we do, not rushing things. "This will be the first bottle designed by a female artist in a long list of males who I look up to."
The artist, who counts South African artists William Kentridge, Athi Patra-Ruga and Cinga Samson as her greatest influences, says it was challenging to make a name for herself in the male-orientated scene of street art.
"I've always crossed over into spaces which haven't been seen as strictly acceptable," she says. "I like to question boundaries. It's important for women to do that. I get inspired when I see females taking the lead in different areas in life, not just because they're women but because of the quality of the work and content of their message."
Faith XLVII says that after her graffiti phase her earlier works were more overtly political. "The Freedom Charter series around the streets of South Africa was about looking at the aims of this historical document in the context of where we are now."
Another big project for her was the seven pillars of the Warwick Triangle. "From about 2006, invitations to many projects in different countries started to flood in. It was a snowball effect; I was moving around a lot."
The artist has used her invitations around the world and her strong presence on the internet to her advantage. She's also tapped in to many of the abiding themes of our zeitgeist. There are a few different narrative threads going through her work.
One of them is our connection to the natural world from a pagan orientation. "We need to consider our connection with the planet," she says.
"A lot of the catastrophic events that we're seeing now have to do with the fact that we're disconnected from natural systems, we see ourselves as separate from our environment. I'm interested in finding ways to speak on this with my work."
The Divine Feminine is another theme. She says she believes that we're out of sync in this male-dominated society not just in terms of gender but in the energies that prevail in the world.
"I'm interested in bringing feminine energy and perspective into spaces. I find that this is powerful and necessary for the current situation which is evidently overpowered with male-orientated thinking. "
Some of the more recent work looks at immigration, borders, maps and geography.
"I'm intrigued by the idea of the Overview Effect [the cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts during space flight, when viewing Earth from outer space] - challenging ideas of nationhood. Of questioning notions of borders and seeing the planet as a whole living being. By deconstructing the maps and geographic lines we currently accept, we are able to rethink notions of separatism and political strategy."
Faith XLVII has done collaborations with Inka Kendzia from Cape Town. "Aurum is a theatrical piece we created in Berlin for the opening of the Urban Nation Museum and then performed at Design Indaba last year. We also created a large-scale projection-mapping piece in Cincinnati - both speak of government oppression and look at animal migration as a way of understanding human migration, the idea that the movement is natural force dependent on underlying factors."
A lot of Faith XLVII's work is concerned with depth psychology - interrogating oneself to find a sense of wholeness. "If we find peace within ourselves it will be easier to have a peaceful world," she says.
"The personal is political. At first, I was interested in making overt social statements - but as I've evolved, personal change has become important. My art echoes my personal reflections but at the same time recognises that we all resonate with each other."
Regardless of her ability to work in many mediums including painting and sculpture, making street art is still important to Faith XLVII.
"The public dimension of the work enables me to participate in the environment in which I live and makes my art accessible. A lot of what we see in public spaces is advertising. I think it's important to create things rooted in culture that bring dialogue and conversation into a society," she says.
A lot of what we see in public spaces is advertising. I think it's important to create things rooted in culture that bring dialogue and conversation into a societyFaith XLVII, street artist
The work she's done in abandoned spaces has been particularly cathartic and sacred to her. "My love of abandoned spaces began in Johannesburg, exploring high-rise empty buildings. There's memory and history on the walls. It's tactile. My relationship with cities is often linked to the architecture, the marks on the walls, the textures and faded steps. I can read a lot of the soul of a place in that way," she says.
Now, she is currently nomadic with her son. She says she's happy to still be exploring the world. "I've always felt somewhat displaced. South Africa will always be my home, where the soil of the land is in my own body. But I am not patriotic or nationalistic in any way."
As to her favourite way to drink the liquid inside the bottle she's designed: "I wanted to create something earthy and rooted and our signature cocktail is one with eucalyptus, jasmine tea and some lime."