Street Art in Cape Town
Christina Baptiste
19 August 2015
An artist gives their art a voice, be it commissioned or not. In a city with so much culture and a vast history of graffiti, I took to the streets to see the different types of voices in each neighbourhood

The 2015 Jo’burg Art Fair is rapidly approaching, from September 11-13 to be precise. The Great More Studios resident artist, Khaya, is working on an 8 feet tall canvas; his vision, a mural-like painting of a European style building located in Cape Town. The twist, the beautiful colonial style building is covered with graffiti tagging. Using a mix of acrylic and spray paint, Khaya wants the beauty of Cape Town to be personified by both architecture and street art representation at the art fair. The negative connotations still surrounding graffiti and street art is the central overriding conversation that Khaya aims for with his installation.
Many artists do not have the opportunity to hold residencies at art galleries and have their work viewed by curators, collectors, and fellow artists. As Juma, a local Capetonian artist puts it, “you need to be part of a family.” The “family” Juma is referring to is an artist’s network and access to opportunities they may not normally have without being in such community. This enables the connections and networking needed for commissioned artwork. Both Khaya and Juma have murals displayed in Woodstock as well as outside of the city center. Both artists agree that without having the connections they do and galleries to back them that their art would have never been on display for the world to see. This network, or “families” are paramount to an artists success, and if they were to no longer be a part of these communities, their art would suffer.
Driving away from Cape Town city center, the view of Table Mountain is behind you. Ahead of you is more breathtaking terrain. The view is striking, so you are obviously still in Cape Town… until you take your eyes off of the mountains that is, and realize both sides of the highway are Townships with informal settlements. 
It seems like a different lifestyle, and it is. The conversations are different. 

The street arts start conversations about HIV/Aids, violence, and rape culture in Cape Town. The twist: these murals I just mentioned are commissioned in some sort of way.
Fact: Graffiti and Street Art began and is still prominent in Cape Town more than anywhere else in South Africa.
An abundance of resistance and street art began throughout Cape Town in the 1980’s, with a lot of the artwork during that decade inspiring the art in District Six. Some murals create conversations about the present day hardships, while others are simply artistic freedom. In Khayelitsha, the similar conversations are happening with murals, but on a different level of what is seen outside of the Cape Flats. Although many murals are commissioned there, it stays true to the people. After all, murals are “the people’s art.”
Fact: Murals will last as long as the wall is still standing. Unfortunately, a developer has bought several homes in Woodstock, in hopes of turning Woodstock into an extension of city center. Families will be relocated and some artwork in Woodstock will be torn down.
The artistic freedom of painting a mural or tagging graffiti on a wall rarely exist anymore due to South Africa’s bylaws that prohibits tagging. Instead, artist practice their craft through commissioned work in order to continue pursuing their passions, while also ensuring an income. But even that is not as easy as it sounds. Some can be given a blank canvas such as a wall to paint, but others are given guidelines to follow which diminishes away from the creative freedom for an artist.

By Christina Baptiste | Illustration by Laura Wainer

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