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Art, Culture

Galleries in Gugulethu

by Dudumalingani Mqombothi / 31.10.2013

DAY ONE: Saturday

On NY117 kids submerge themselves in a swimming pool. Their radiant noise mumbles underneath conversations and then fills the silence that is left behind when those conversations die. On realising what was happening on NY147, a few of them wander over, dripping water, their tiny bare bodies basking in the scorching sun.

The event is scheduled to start at 12:00 but it’s at half past that tour guides gather in the middle of the street and wonder what exactly they are supposed to do. The visitors are not allowed to enter any houses. A guide must lead them, and the visitors must get a number first. But the person with the numbers is not here yet.

For a few minutes visitors are held suspended by the incompetency of the organising. Then the graffiti artists Rayaan Cassiem, Doce (a Brazilian who’s has been in CT for a year), Anwar Davids and Leigh Cupid begin working. The visitors, with not much else to do, gather around them. They inhale the smell of sprays and find solace in it. The graffiti artists suspend tagging to have a word with visitors and then continue. Anwar scratches his head when asked what his piece is called. Rayaan shows me the precise drawing on his sketchbook of the piece he will be doing. And later I cannot tell the difference between the tiny drawing in the sketchbook and the giant graffiti on the wall. In one house, graffiti from last year’s event is still visible on the wall although the owner of the house has added a row of bricks on the wall since last year. The dry cement drips down to the graffiti but the graffiti work thrusts itself into view.

A few minutes before 13:00 the visitors are finally grouped and the exhibition, though delayed, begins. The sun hangs above NY147 and for a few hours it feels as if it is standing still. There is not a cloud in the sky. A slight damp wind dances by itself around the bodies moving about in the street. And then a flock of ostriches invades the street. They break into a song and dance. The leaders of the ostrich invasion Shahieda and Samantha tell me they have also performed at the Oudsthoorn KNKN festival. When they perform, they gather kids from that area and teach them songs and dance moves. Later on the day, the Ikapa Inspiration in Motion Dance Theatre dances on the street. The dancers move with absolute freedom and their shadows mimic their every shape.

Dancing Ostriches

House No. 1 on NY147 has a photography exhibition by Photospeak Upscale, an initiative in Wynberg that mentors kids in photography. The kids get cameras and they capture their communities in frames. Amongst their photographs that hang on the walls of the house, a mirror is mounted on the wall and when a visitor stands in front of it, they create a self-portrait. At the bottom of the mirror, a caption reads ‘the most beautiful portrait’. The other houses have the same artwork from the Langa exhibition a few weeks ago. In another house, Mamu Sidloyi, who is 84 years old, defies arthritis and crochets plastic mats, hats and bags from plastic bags. After a few hours, visitors strut around in her hats and bags.

Down the street from it, in a double story house, is the initiative “Tell them we are from here”. The exhibition consists of a photographic exhibition, the film Man on Ground and the documentary Tell Them We Are From Here. Tell them we are from here is an anti-xenophobia, non-governmental project that sprang to life in 2011 as the social justice extension of the film Man on Ground. It was created in order to encourage community dialogue around the issue of xenophobia.

In one house, where a door is left wide open, a woman holding a baby yells at anyone who stands in front of her yard. Another house, a bio of the owners hangs on their rusty gate. It labels them as the oldest artist couple in Gugulethu. But the house is closed. The house opposite it has vicious looking dogs guarding the entrance. And yet on its gate hangs a sign that claims that the house is a showroom.

Though the euphoria is visible, despondency is brewing out of sight.

Last year's graffiti

DAY TWO: Sunday

Unlike day one, the day begins before twelve o’clock. I slip into Thamikazi Zembe’s house. The house is built of red bricks. It is shaped like an L and from the kitchen it leads to backrooms. “I am happy to be part of the exhibition. We are very happy”, she says, “This is a good thing for our community”. In another house, a group of young boys gather in the main room and are watching a soccer match repeat. The owner of the house sits outside and is having a cold one in a long glass.

My ears steal a conversation meant for friends “What is happening here?” A voice asks. Another answers, “Arg, they are just taking pictures”.

In front of the house, Tom Briggs from Blendavenda shows his Cycle for Juice concept. Blendavenda is the original cycle powered smoothie maker. A bike is connected to a blender. Tom mixes fruits, ice blocks and adds juice in the blender. The locals cycle, everyone cheers and a healthy smoothie comes out. The concept began in the UK in 2003 and is being tested here in South Africa. “We have only been here for a few weeks but it is proving to be popular. This is really going be big during the summer” he tells me.

Day two nears an end and I seek people’s impressions of the entire festival. Thimna Ntlebi, one of the guides, tells me that last year’s event was a lot busier. A sentiment that Michaela Irving, an Art Times photographer echoes. “Last year there was a lot more vibe on the street than this year. This year seems a more serious art event than a street party”. I ask Siphiwe Ngwenya, the organiser, and he tells me that this year’s exhibition has moved away from the rowdiness because it needs to mimic the ambience of an art gallery.

At about 16: 30, the different exhibitors begin packing their exhibitions. Photographers snap their last photos. Journalists scribble their last notes. The visitors disappear. The graffiti artists spray for the last time, so that the smell lingers long after they are gone. The locals hang outside their houses and watch their street resume the image of it they are familiar with. But all of this will replay in their minds until next year.

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* Images © Dudumalingani Mqombothi

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