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Fink, Grahamstown

A Boy and his Crayons


As the country shifts its attention to the cold streets of Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival, many will notice that the walls of the old settler town have been carpet bombed by stencil graffiti. Details are as sketchy as the origins of Osama bin Laden’s purported porn stash. However, this much we can say: the graf writer whose stencils have been showing up in the Grahamstown CBD of late – plastered in busy streets for, I suppose, heightened exposure – may or may not be a local schoolboy, scribbling on walls under the alias “Fink”.

And they’ve attracted the attention of some heavy hitters. Like Joburg photographer Christo Doherty, Head of Digital Arts at WITS, who took photos of the stencils in town and posted them on Flickr, the photo-sharing website, some time earlier this year. A Flickr user named mrbraggins1 responded favourably to one of Doherty’s pictures of the stencils – a gorilla holding what looks like a glass pipe used for dagga-smoking, with the word “Grefzly” written on the pipe, and asked who the artist was.
“I believe that this work in Grahamstown is by a local schoolboy,” responded Doherty. But when I approached Doherty, who claimed to “know someone who knows the artist”, requesting that he forward my questions, he replied, “apparently he doesn’t read email… Sorry about that. It looks like you’re going to have to… just speculate about the motives of the artist.”

Fink, which has a range of derogatory meanings from a strike-breaker to an informant and generally refers to a contemptible person, as in “ratfink”, but could also just be slang for “think”. Outside the Wimpy on the corner of High and Bertram streets, it is written under the stencil of a girl.

Grahamstown Graffiti

By and large, the City of Saints is a student town. During recess, it’s desolate, the locals looking more dejected than a Garfield cartoon. Moreover, without the annual Arts feast, the town is, in the words of the late E’skia Mphahlele, “so British it’s not funny.” Yet, what is funny is how graffiti – ranging from tagging and stencils to “commissioned street art” has assimilated itself so well into Grahamtown street life, appearing more and more on street corners and abondoned old buidings.

The Fink stencils began appearing in April this year. Soon after business owners raised the alarm and got the local cops involved. Even before the comment on Flickr, Fink’s “public artworks” appeared to be the work of an upstart: mug-shot sized portraits of Steve Biko, Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema (I think?), a Batman-like bird creature – the kind of simple, minimalist stuff that you can produce meticulously in private and execute on walls in a couple of seconds.

After all, even Blek le Rat, that French man who was among the first to popularize stencil graffiti as another form of street art, began spray-painting rats, “the freerest creature in Paris,” he once said.

Fink, Grahamstown

Recently, the mystery deepened. A “triptych” of a Native American appeared on High Street, the busiest in Grahamstown, and the canvas for most of Fink’s stencils. Although this time the artist wrote “Mr Stevenson” underneath and not Fink, as usual.

As Fink’s public campaign evolves over the duration of the fest, you can be sure the Grahamstown locals will have plenty to talk about at the Long Table.

Fink, Grahamstown

Fink, Grahamstown

Fink, Grahamstown

Fink, Grahamstown

*All images © Thabo Jijana.

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  1. dudie says:

    I dont know if this stencil work is so good…

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  2. Pablo says:

    Hi dudie,

    Let me help make your mind for you. They’re not. They’re shit.

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  3. layla says:

    The stencil in the top picture has been around Grahamstown for years. The likelihood of all this being the work of one single artist is slim. It’s more than likely an organic development of different people adding their bit over time, with one individual cashing in for the prime-time slot. The National Arts Festival is a all about opportunism, and this sudden flare up of street art is probably some personal publicity stunt, possibly even to promote nothing more than a school boy’s reputation around a small town.
    Nice pics.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    If you’re going pretend to be Banksy, then do it properly.

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  5. Ayden says:

    ya those stencils are very kak

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  6. Oec_Questboys says:

    Back to the drawing board son… and the article is pretty dam weak.

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  7. Hank-Gunn says:

    As a current student studying at Rhodes University, I can confirm that all the stencils are not the work of only one artist. There is a small number of guys/girls that stencil the streets, the problem is that most of them seem to employ a similar style….
    As for the article; to many assumptions are being made about Grahamstown and the nature of the stencils.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Theres no way that these are all the same guy/girl…Artists often leave their spuedonym behind, like a signiture on a conventional painting. For example “Fink” below the Malema heads and “MR. STEVENSON” below the native american chiefs clearly show that this is more than one person. I didn’t realise that Grahamstowns graff was booming, even if it is still developing it would be an intresting story to explore. But perhaps could use a little more homework.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    those stencils are super weak, no talent at all….. if u want to make your mark atleast do it with a dope tag/stencil/throwup/piece, sometimes i think people make their names look kak on purpose

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  10. listen says:

    boda has been hitting that spot for a while dropping some skilled burner characters, you even got a quote from him (stupid poes cant read her tag) waist your time on cats that are dropping burners that are consistent and not stencil toys.

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