Urban Art Livens Up The Streets

Graffiti is claiming its place globally as an acceptable contemporary art form. In South Africa, this urban art movement is also becoming increasingly mainstream – and Cape Town is its home.

A group exhibition titled Outside at 34FineArt in the mother city features international artists such as Banksy, D*Face, Blek le Rat and Mr Brainwash as well as locals, including COE.1, Black Koki, Motel7 and Faith47.

Cape Town street artist Motel7 says: “We have so many facets to our city. You have the ugly and the beautiful. The beautiful can be ugly and vice versa.

“Take Woodstock as an example. It is an area of dividing ideas. On one side of the spectrum this is a place of hardship, poverty and crime. On the other it has become the creative hub of Cape Town, a place of hope.”

She says street artists face pressure when using public spaces as their canvas.

But in Woodstock, where the movement has taken root, there is a bit more freedom.

“Woodstock has been forgotten, and we are able to paint here quite freely without being hassled, as long as we get permission,” she says.

“Unfortunately, a new bylaw has made it difficult for artists. I have been in Europe for almost two years, and would end up painting almost every day because the government usually endorses it in some way.”

The graffiti bylaw stipulates that the City of Cape Town “declares the existence of graffiti anywhere within its area of jurisdiction to be a public nuisance, which is subject to removal”.

Motel7 says: “Unfortunately, in Cape Town we are seen as criminals. We are misunderstood. We want to make Cape Town a bright and happy place. Sadly, we are seldom given this opportunity without a lot of paperwork.”

Motel7 points out that, because of the strict bylaw, artists are painting in areas like Woodstock, Guguletu and Salt River.

“Because of this the urban art movement has almost been shunned from the city, so I don’t know whether or not you can say this is urban.”

And although the art form has found homage in galleries around the world, there are still street artists who believe in keeping it on the streets.

Motel7 says: “Back when graffiti started in New York it was a way for misfits to feel a part of something. Recently, there has been a sad change of events. Street art has become trendy, and people are getting into it for the wrong reasons.

“Aspiring street artists see how much Banksy’s paintings are selling for and they start to think, ‘hey I should have a go’.”

Motel7 is exhibiting a canvas in spraypaint and acrylic that depicts two sad girls standing side by side, which symbolises two facets of the artist.

“I wanted to tackle issues I have with myself and issues I have socially, and even bigger issues that have nothing to do with me.

“The over-indulgence of society, the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in us all.”

Street art is a tool of urban communication which bridges the gap between artist and communicator.

It creates a space in which people no longer live parallel lives, but communicate their shared frustrations with life, says Motel7.

“In a lot of ways street art can evoke what society is feeling. Because of the nature of graffiti, it is a great tool to get across what others can’t. If I can make someone smile when they walk past looking at my graffiti, I feel I have accomplished something. We have communicated without uttering a word.”


Deb McKoy