Street art is turning Salt River into a glorious outdoor gallery

This once-industrial area of Cape Town is fast being repainted as an art lover's paradise. So go take a tour, writes Allison Foat

22 September 2019 - 00:00 By Allison Foat
Writer Allison Foat gazes on Justin Nomad's mural on Tennyson Street. Titled 'The Library', it shows the contrasting ways of learning from the past to the present.
Writer Allison Foat gazes on Justin Nomad's mural on Tennyson Street. Titled 'The Library', it shows the contrasting ways of learning from the past to the present.
Image: Alex Tilmans, IPAF

Street art in the Mother City is lit. Embraced as a cultural asset, this form of artistic expression is intrinsic to the urban landscape and has become a cherished part of the city's heritage and DNA.

Take a stroll through the CBD and neighbouring Salt River and Woodstock and there is no end to the bold beautification.

Street art has its genesis in graffiti, stylised lettering known as tagging that was first identified in Philadelphia in the '60's when schoolboy Darryl McCray aka Cornbread started leaving his writing on the wall, so to speak.

Dissed as anti-establishment and vilified as vandalism, graffiti today resonates as a contemporary phenomenon that has morphed beyond the subcultural vocabulary once associated only with gangs and recalcitrant youth.

Post the guerilla graffiti wave of the '80s, the rise of Banksy changed the street-art game. Famously faceless, the art warrior with a predilection for provocation used his powerful stencils to speak truth to power.

Perceptions shifted and so did the standard and quality of public art as a new generation of supremely gifted artists emerged, advocating professionalism, skill, originality and protocol over random scrawling, stickering, spot-jocking and the offensive sullying of public spaces. Their undisputed brilliance shone across the concrete jungles of the world and artworks once shunned were misdemeanors no more.

'Nature is still the most accurate technology' by French artist Maye is on Salt River Road in Salt River, Cape Town.
'Nature is still the most accurate technology' by French artist Maye is on Salt River Road in Salt River, Cape Town.
Image: Alex Tilmans/IPAF

Today state-sanctioned street art is a thing. Take Salt River, once the textile and industrial epicentre of the Western Cape and one of only a handful of places that managed to evade forced removals during apartheid.

Given the challenging circumstance of the day, protest art and subversive messaging were commonplace but, over the past three years in particular, the suburb has seen a proliferation of incredible outdoor art, smartly curated through the annual International Public Art Festival (IPAF).

Each February since 2017, the NGO, has commissioned up to 30 South African and international artists to produce pieces on the walls and doors of private homes, public spaces, schools, office blocks and factories.

The artists have to promote inclusivity, dialogue, collaboration and positivity. Community engagement is helped by partnerships between the City of Cape Town, residents, local cooks, small businesses and volunteers.

Meanwhile, fundraising efforts have provided money for tour guides, as well as art classes and workshops at under-resourced schools and organisations.

Residents and office workers watch with interest as creatives assume positions on the sidewalks, up ladders and in lofty cherry pickers to transform blank surfaces over a period of 10 days.

At the IPAF launch earlier this year, Warda Rahim, Chairperson of the Salt River Residents Association commented that "the IPAF team could go anywhere with this project but they have chosen Salt River and we are overwhelmed by the transformation of our area."

The styles range from dot work to mosaics, calligraphy, photo-realism, portraiture, trompe l'oeil and full-scale murals - some simple, others elaborate, and all relevant. Whether the final picture is message-driven, addressing socio political issues or simply there to uplift or make pretty, street art exists to make you stop and think. It's universal and accessible.

Banksy puts it succinctly. "Imagine a city ... where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases," he said. "Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall - it's wet."

The next International Public Art Festival (IPAF) in Salt River will take place February 12 - 17 2020 with the theme 'Digitalisation'. For more info about Salt River street-art tours, art classes, workshops and IPAF visit baz-art.co.za.


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