Artist went Above his brief

12 April 2012 - 02:33 By ROSHAN NEBHRAJANI
Graffiti by US artist 'Above' at Jewel City in Johannesburg. The artist says he tricked Arts on Main into sponsoring his anti-blood diamonds message Picture: DANIEL BORN
Graffiti by US artist 'Above' at Jewel City in Johannesburg. The artist says he tricked Arts on Main into sponsoring his anti-blood diamonds message Picture: DANIEL BORN

A US graffiti artist known as "Above" has ruffled the feathers of diamond jewellers in Joburg with his latest mural, which makes a strong statement against "blood diamonds".

The California artist painted the provocative mural in Jewel City, in downtown Johannesburg. It includes the wording: "Diamonds are a woman's best friend but a man's worst enemy" on the high-security complex's east wall.

Though he had permission from the district's businessmen to write "Diamonds are a woman's best friend", he surprised them with the "and a man's worst enemy" part.

The four-block complex is home to South Africa's largest diamond trading industry. But the mural won't be around for much longer.

According to Iain Nicol, an asset manager at Redefine Properties, which owns the Jewel City vicinity, the mural will be covered "as soon as possible".

On the graffiti blog 12ozProphet, Above explained his inspiration for the mural: "Jewel City is the largest diamond exporter in the southern hemisphere, with over R7-billion worth of diamonds being exported every year.

"What the owners didn't know is that I lied to them and was hijacking their wall. I assume the owners were so busy trading diamonds inside the mega centre that they never took the time to come out and see that I was painting a controversial word-play about the diamond trade and how it's fuelled so much bloodshed in wars, making it one of man's worst enemies."

Though his identity is concealed, Above has been creating public art for over 15 years and is widely known for his social and politically provocative work.

Above planned the work as a commentary on South Africa's notoriously bloody mining and diamond industry.

But Nicol said this opinion was "unfair".

The diamond industry in Jewel City, which hosts nearly 300 diamond and precious metals companies, gets its diamonds from "legitimate sources", Nicol said.

Some of the tenants of Jewel City complained about the attention the mural brought to the area.

"It is not correct for that kind of a mural to go up," he said. "Permission wasn't asked; it's unfair, and it's a security risk."

Above painted the piece as part of an art residency with Arts on Main, a community arts and culture initiative.

The relationship between Arts on Main and Jewel City began with the intention of beautifying the area with local art.

But now the mural will be covered up with work by local artists, according to Hayleigh Evans, the brand manager for Maboneng, the organisation that oversees the Arts on Main project.

"We support Jewel City in this. We do not feel that the piece is appropriate for a permanent work," she said.

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