Boom! Art for Lifeby Ian Dickinson / Images by Marcello Maffeis / 11.03.2014
I was leaning against the balcony railing breathing in cigarette smoke and hot sticky Durban air. Florida Road was bustling below as sandal-clad Durbanites hunted for food and fun. In the passageway in front of me, a postmodern art critic was at work. Poised in a contemplative stance, he gazed at an illustration of a baby floating surreally above a swimming whale. His critic-cred amplified by a healthy, well-manicured nest of chin fur, a paisley shirt, skinny jeans and boots. All that was missing were the black-rimmed Buddy Holly shades and a craft beer. This guy had seen the inside of an art history lecture hall for sure.
I’d thrown on a checkered shirt earlier in the day and my dreads probably provided some social camouflage, but I wondered if the pack could smell an intruder. Should I wander past and casually mention something about Dutch vanitas themes? No. It was too risky. It could lead to further conversation and I’m not sure I’d come out alive. The truth is, as far as art discourse goes, I was treading water in the deep end of a surrealist swimming pool trying desperately to keep my head above water.
The printed illustrations decorating the passage all looked pretty fantastic to me. They were a glimpse into a fascinating world of creative exploration, a mind-trip of the phantasmagorical. How does one create these visions of cartoonish fantasy? I was hardly in a position to critique something that comes from a world I know little about. And I suppose I didn’t have to. I was here to write a story. I was here to soak in the vibes, to rub shoulders with Durban’s cultural classes and most of all to contribute to a good cause.
Spawned from the brain of illustrator/animator/graphic designer/hairdo master Adriaan Landman, the Booom! Baby art exhibit was anything but a pretentious affair. Art etiquette, I quickly realised, was not under scrutiny here. The goal wasn’t to snub your artistic adversaries with well-versed, academic analyses of the post-modern artscape.
So what was the goal? Simply put: money and publicity. But not the sort of ‘I paint culturally relevant graffiti and sell it to the pompous elite for exorbitant prices’ kind of deal. No, this was a charity art exhibit. You see, Mr. Landman and his fiancé are eager supporters of non-profit organisation HOLAH – the House of Love and Hope – based in Durban North. In operation since 2012, HOLAH is a safe haven for babies that have either been abandoned, orphaned, given up for adoption or removed from their parents’ care. Babies that arrive at HOLAH receive all the love and attention they so desperately need until they can be placed with adoptive families or reunited with their biological families.
“I’ve always wanted to find a way to use my love for illustrated art to help children,” Landman tells me. So it makes sense that he teamed up with Kim Brown and Leanne Lorrance, the super-passionate duo behind HOLAH.
Illustrators and artists from across the country donated artworks, with all proceedings from print sales going to HOLAH. “I put together a list of artists I considered to have the most diverse styles, who also happened to be amongst the top in the country. I’m very humbled that they all responded,” he smiles. Names on the contributor’s list include Alex Latimer, Tokyo-Go-Go, Maaike Bakker, Jordan Metcalf, Tania Whiteley, Trevor Paul, Daniel du Plessis, Colwyn Thomas, and a piece by the first-time curator himself.
Add to the list of accomplished SA artists an equally impressive list of sponsors and the event goes from a small time fundraiser to a media-worthy event. PrintWild, iComputing Solutions, Wakaberry, Jägermeister (complete with scantily-clad Jägerettes) and Gunslinger Longboards all showed up to offer their support. Gunslinger raffled off a longboard (I didn’t win it despite an unrealistic confidence in my ticket selection).
The venue was a fitting match too. Playing host to the exhibit was Upstairs, a bar on the second floor above Durban’s renowned eatery Spiga. Initially a waiting room for hungry Spiga patrons, the venue has quickly become a hotspot to capture and showcase Durban’s creative culture.
Sadly, despite the efforts of places like Upstairs, Durban seems to have earned itself a pretty decent rep as a cultural dead-spot. International bands often bypass it, tourist maps tout the sea and the surf paying little heed to art museums, and there’s a trend of general audience apathy at live gigs or art exhibits.
So is there a place for exhibits like Booom! Baby within the sunny city by the sea? Landman thinks so. He’s also adamant that the Durban art scene is about to split open like a ripe pawpaw: “I’ve lived in Durban my whole life and the art scene always feels like it’s just about to burst. Its time is now. Durban has never been short of amazing talent and people driving the scene with exhibitions and events. Attendance can be touch-and-go but there is no reason to limit eyes on an artwork to the crowd you are able to gather at a particular venue. Durban can be put on the map as a contributor to the international art scene. Technology allows it. It’s going to happen… soon.”
So we can assume that Landman will be donning his curator’s cap again in the not-too-distant future. “This is only one of many Booom! Babys,” he clarifies. “I’m hoping to work with a new team and take the exhibition on tour; maybe starting in Jo’burg then Cape Town and back to Durban. The main reason for this is because these shows are not only for selling art and raising money for underprivileged kids here, they’re also to reach more people and make them aware of this problem our country faces and the support that is needed.” I think it’s kind of cool when art takes on a social responsibility role. It seems to make the pretty pictures more accessible. You might feel awkward browsing through a Penny Siopis exhibit dodging intellectuals with monocles and top hats (okay that’s an exaggeration), but you don’t need to be anything more than a Durbanite, or just a person for that matter, to buy art for a baby house. And, if you’re like me, when you’re done contributing to a good cause you’ll take a stroll up the street to Taco Zulu and stuff your face with cheesy unhealthiness before heading home. Forget the Louvre, the food there’s too expensive anyway, this will do us just fine.
All images © Marcello Maffeis