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Art, Culture

Township Art

by Dudumalingani Mqombothi / 17.10.2013

The revellers, nestled in a long narrow street, are all in a rhapsodic mood. Langa kids, most in pyjamas, abducted from their sleep by the noise that usurped their street, have turned the faces of the volunteers to canvases. The face paint, with its inaccurate strokes, turns the kids into caricatures of their normal self. Rubusana Street is filled with different conversations that alone make perfect sense but together arrive at a pandemonium of noise. Adding to the noise, the DJ has lined up a mean house mix. The street, depending on his choice of song, explodes into chaotic dance choreography. Ten houses that line up one side of Rubusana Street have artworks hanging on their walls. This is an art exhibition and not a street bash.

Maboneng township art experience is a brainchild of an avant-garde young curator, Siphiwe Ngwenya. When he was in grade 10, Siphiwe wandered into the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and was told to come back when he was done with matric. Fuck them, he said to himself whilst quietly leaving the gallery. Four years later, he turned township homes in the Alexander Township into art galleries.

Siphiwe Ngwenya

The model is simple, a visitor buys a ticket to view the artworks and the homes get a percentage of the money made. Siphiwe explains this model without the whisper that artist fall into when talking about making money from their art. Then he expanded the concept to Matatiele in KZN and Gugulethu in Cape Town. On October 12, 2013, he turned ten houses on Rubusana Street in Langa into art galleries. The exhibition began at 10hr00 and ended on Sunday 16:00. The houses, even though with minor alterations to their RDP structures mimic each other in design, were given a facelift and their walls decorated with the artworks of artists Dathini Mzayiya, Velile Soha, Khaya Witbooi and Bangikhaya Maqoqa. Maboneng was launching the project in Langa as part of the African Creative Market that ran from 6 – 13 of October 2013 in venues around Cape Town. Amongst the artwork on exhibition, the pieces that seemed to attract most attention was Dathini Mzayiya’s human beings carved on goatskins and Velile Soha’s wood carving of human beings with a dog head.

By 14hr00, Rubusana Street is packed and more and more people are arriving. BMX freestyle riders lie on the ground to allow their mates to jump over them with their bikes. Kids on skateboards attempt to jump over a red chair they found on the street. Soccer players play a knockout tournament. Young girls skip rope. Locals and tourists could wander off the festivities on the street into one of the galleries. Locals came out to view the artwork and after retreat to their homes and hang over their fences and watch. A woman sits in front of her house, busking in the periodic sun, with a vetkoek and tea in hand. Through out the day the rain and the clouds wrestle to be part of the exhibition. It would rain for a few minutes and then the sun, with great terror, would thrust itself through the thick dark clouds. Because of the intermittent rain, the face paint painters spent the entire day painting kids, inconsistence in their work showed. A brush stroke that is indistinct because another painter who has no care for precision did not retouch it.


The house owners played hosts. In one house, a woman in a nightgown and a brown sweater stood at the door to her toilet. In another house, a teenage girl with her arms folded behind her back and earphones stuck to her ears stood in the middle of the lounge with a small kitchen behind her. Her sister sat in the bedroom, drying her hair in front of a mirror with a hair dryer. Their grandmother, with a blanket wrapped around her legs, sat in a wheelchair on the red stoep of the house. In another house, with an anteroom that appears to have been a bar, with empty alcohol bottles and wine glasses suspended on wood, a young man stood in the kitchen and the smell of pap filled the house.

The concept to hold an exhibition in the township, in people’s homes is refreshing and is without the pretentious atmosphere that hangs in mainstream galleries but, as one was the case in one house, it risks having philistines welcoming visitors to their house.


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* All images © Dudumalingani Mqombothi

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