Open Letter – Cape Town PTF Member
On Sunday morning I received news from a friend that friends of mine had been arrested for painting what was well known by all as “the eiy5 memorial jam”, an event organized and promoted online for the participation of any artist who wished to pay tribute to a fellow artist. This even had huge support from local stores, nationwide artists and was planned to be a day of remembrance and celebration of a young man who tragically lost his life far too early 5 years ago. The news of their arrest startled me as the event was publicized as legal and was organized at a location known all over South Africa as a wall where graffiti is allowed legally and a tourist attraction for graffiti murals to be viewed when in Durban. Many events had been organized there before, often you will see the wall in the backdrop of magazine ads and music video backgrounds, these back drops supplied free of charge by the artists purely in the spirit of expressing themselves on a legal wall through their art which requires more space than a small canvas and a lot more skill than many of South Africa’s praised artists.
Many of these men are professional artists, doing the design on your business cards, websites, pamphlets and clothing. They work hard to earn money which they then spend on their art which as a graffiti artist is shared with the public free of charge. To view art from an oil painter you would have to pay hundreds of rands. What other art encourages pictorial remembrance for all who view it, free of charge. What art provides free upliftment and colour to an area so neglected by the council that the area portrays an image of danger and poverty. This art often covers the real gang symbols of “26” and other gangs associated with these areas. The artists often risking their lives to put these murals up as the real gangsters get hostile towards the positivity. It brings a positive message to the wall and encourages expression of oneself. What other form of art is there where a group of artists will gather to commemorate a friend who has passed and create a social memorial involving the art that person loved.
This event was organized under the perception by the artists that after years of this wall being painted hassle free and gaining permission from the current tenant that they would be able to hold the memorial hassle free. Maybe the government would prefer if these artists had taken to using silver and black and gone on a spree of mindless tagging and artless vandalism that brings no beauty to the area. Maybe they would prefer if these artists had each taken one division of Durban and vandalized 7 different areas, in high-class areas that the taxes of all citizens go into uplifting to keep the high class, politically powerful , corporate monopolies happy. Each artist uses about 6 to 10 cans on their artwork. This is about 400 rand per artist, meaning they spent almost 3000 rand just on paint, probably a lot more. An artist could vandalise a lot more than just one wall should they use this amount on black and silver cans. The amount used to clean these murals off walls costs more than it does to put them up, yet this cost goes towards pulling colour off walls and replacing it with a dull grey cement that brings a depression when driving passed it in traffic. Why not leave the colour, allowing people to feel uplifted and see new art on a daily basis and spend that money on cleaning the water stained sides of bridges, is that not more of an eyesore than a colourful mural? Better yet why not spend that money which amounts to almost a million on providing extra low cost housing or to set up a feeding scheme for poverty stricken youth. What is more important, a child’s life or some rich-off-our-taxes politician not seeing colour on his way to his supposed job sitting in an office figuring out how to raise rates and hide the country’s problems from tourists and the elite few whose opinion actually matters. In a country where on average 89 people are murdered a day and police will respond rather to a call where they can easily arrest 7 artists than work on investigating the murder of those who were killed for supposedly having political ties. We have 1000s striking, breaking cars and destroying property which is definite vandalism with no possible beauty behind it yet these people get away with it as it is too much of an effort to stop them when they strike.
Cape Town had similar problems last year when JP Smith organized the arrest of a mother who defended graffiti artists at an upliftment event at Searle street park and held her for 3 days with no actual charges laid purely to show off their power and put fear into artists. This is a pathetic use of police force and media coverage. The same in Joburg a few years back when police threatened to arrest artists painting a school in Melville which was COMMISSIONED by the principle as the school had been vandalized and he felt a mural by artists would deter vandalism and improve the image of the school. Police armed with machine guns went up against unarmed teenagers. The result, the wall was left unfinished and an eyesore, never cleaned by the council and the woman who complained was arrested for vandalising the wall by splashing paint on it to give vandalism a worse name. This woman, a large member of the home owners association. These did not stop graffiti or resolve anything. These walls were left looking unfinished and were never tended to by the council. Graffiti artists later got permission again and fixed the walls and now these murals stand without any complaints.
I personally have been flown around South Africa for graffiti commissions to attract people and help improve the image of businesses. Have seen artwork of mine used in photoshoots for companies and have given workshops for well established art galleries and current affairs groups in the Western Cape. If graffiti artists are such gangsters why is it that these industries involve themselves with us daily, promote our artwork as a positive image to associate yourself to. Why does our government commission graffiti artists to paint murals for the world cup and on the other hand pay to clean other murals? They commission huge jobs such as the District 6 buildings in Cape Town, Newtown pillars in Joburg, Cape Town fan walk, Durban bridges and yet when walls in neglected industrial areas are painted, they arrest the artists. Arrested to prove a point…
The police force makes arrests like this to give a positive appearance for themselves. Why else would they have arranged news cover of this event. Why is it no artists has a single quote in any news article, no community member from the area on their feel about the wall. Surely that plays a part? The only opinions mentioned are the subjective, censored and acceptable ones by societies standards. We can hire Private Investigators to find graffiti artists, but when a mother and child are raped and murdered the case is lost, it doesn’t even make the news and is never followed up by even a single cop after a few days of research that is probably equivalent to Google searching “looking for murderer and rapist” and clicking the first link. Majority of the police force are only there for the power of a weapon and the ego boost of authority with no intention of ever making this country a better place.
Cant even count on police to get your back, Cos they too busy bribing citizens and selling crack, They wont arrest the killer but innocent children get attacked, for speaking back, if you bring up your rights it hurts their ego, a policeman is a crook acting as if he were a hero – Power of Thought. South African lyricist.
Paint the Future.