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[dt-space height="30"][dt-section-title title="Graffiti brings life to the city" subtitle="By JeVanne Gibbs"][dt-space height="30"]

Graffiti – for many the word brings to mind imagery of vandalism. But that is an old hat.

Local and international artists continue to work to establish graffiti as a credible visual art form and to create a platform to launch a line of communication.

“It is human nature to leave your mark,” says Past Experiences founder and graffiti expert Jo Buitendach.

“Graffiti is a dialogue between an artist and other artists, as well as a conversation between the artist and the public.”

The art form is now used as a political statement, as seen by human rights organisation Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions SA.

The organisation reached out to local artists, activists and community members earlier this year to get involved in creating graffiti murals for its “Israeli Apartheid” themed activism.

In Johannesburg, the art form has been embraced as a tool to rejuvenate and beautify the metropolis, as the inner city continues to evolve.

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[dt-section-title title="Jo Buitendach" subtitle="Graffiti Expert"][dt-space height="30"]

Buitendach has done walking tours around the city for about five years, highlighting the city’s graffiti.

“We promote graffiti and areas in the city that have been ‘forgotten’,” she says.

“We show people what graffiti really is and encourage people to keep an open mind.”

She added the prominence of graffiti and street art in the inner city were part of drawing people back to those “forgotten” areas.

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This after Kwa-Mai Mai, one of Johannesburg’s oldest traditional healers’ markets, regained its spark following a R3.2 million “kiss of life” from the Johannesburg Property Company .

Youth leaders in the community appealed to the city council to inject resources into the facility to enhance its appearance and attract tourists into the area.

Economic development MMC Councillor Ruby Mathang says: “The revamping project provided temporary employment opportunities for 52 local residents and three local suppliers.

“Our priority was cleanliness and the safety of the community. Tourists are now back and the whole area is abuzz with informal traders…”

Kwa-Mai Mai consists of several stalls run by authentic traditional healers in traditional regalia, who use old-fashioned herbs to cure the sick.

The market is close to the Maboneng Precinct and one the oldest established areas in the city, Jeppestown.

Buitendach says Jeppestown, in the east of the city, is known for its railway and features some of the best graffiti pieces in the city, alongside Troyeville and Fairview.

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“This is why Jeppestown was seen as a vital area to feature art pieces as part of the fourth annual City of Gold Urban Art Festival,” says Buitendach.

“It’s our fourth year involved in the festival. Organisers really struggle to find walls for graffiti artists to spray, as walls used for the festival have to be legal. This year’s festival has a community spin to it and includes people in the area.”

International graffiti artists Wane from New York, Solo One from London and MrDheo from Portugal joined a number of local artists including Falko, Mars, Curio, Rasty, Kevin Love, Zesta, MyZA and Bias in decorating the city’s walls with dynamic art pieces as part of the festival.

[dt-section-title title="Solo One" subtitle="Graffiti Artist"][dt-space height="30"]

For a project in Jeppestown, graffiti artist Solo One worked with children in the area to create street art.

The project consisted of obtaining used tyres from around the area and painting them with effervescent colours.

Solo One, also known as the Sticker King of London, tells The Citizen that he enjoys doing community projects and “giving back to society”.

“I normally take part in projects that transform spaces in residential areas, to make them better and uplift those areas,” says Solo One.

“Any decoration that can be done in an area is beneficial, I’ve found. The tyre project was mainly for the residents here to see their environment differently and introduce the children to design,” he adds.

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The Mayfair Hotel in London recently held a law convention where Solo One was invited to paint for the day and produce canvases.

Another of his projects involved an urban art fair in Josephine Avenue in Brixton, London following the Israeli attack on Gaza. Solo One’s piece ‘Hope’ had been a tribute to the victims of war and the quest for peace through negotiation.

See his blog here http://soloone.blogspot.com.

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[dt-section-title title="Bias" subtitle="Graffiti Artist"][dt-space height="30"]

Bias is a graffiti artist from Johannesburg who has been painting for about nine years.

He says his name was chosen as a statement about how people view graffiti and the consistent vandalism-versus-art debate.

Bias is part of a movement known as the OWN Crew, who focus on painting large-scale, community-oriented, colourful projects.

He defines his style as “semi-wild and as colourful as possible”.

Bias’ graffiti for the festival was inspired by the story of King Midas and his golden touch.

“We are in the City of Gold, and no one painted a piece featuring gold,” he says.

The interactive piece includes a URL which leads viewers to Midnight Star’s music video for their single “Midas Touch”.

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[dt-section-title title="Falko" subtitle="Graffiti Artist"][dt-space height="30"]

Cape Town’s Falko is widely regarded as being a vital part of the foundation and development of South Africa’s graffiti scene.

After a short stint studying graphic design, Falko decided to instead perfect the art form that kept him occupied during his years at high school.

His work soon became a recognised feature around the Cape Flats and eventually around the country.

For the festival, Falko produced a massive mural along Maddison Street in Jeppestown.

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The Graffiti artist is not only known for his distinct style but also for establishing graffiti as a credible visual art form – and for creating a platform for aspiring writers.

His highlights include participating in the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations; creating murals for the build-up to the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece and establishing a line of communication between artists in Kenya, England and South Africa through his “Lines of Attitude” project.

After 25 years as a graffiti artist, Falko believes the art form is a “dynamic social tool”. He continues to dedicate a considerable amount of his time to community projects around the country.


[dt-section-title title="The Debate" subtitle="Can graffiti be considered art?"][dt-space height="30"]

The debate on whether graffiti can be considered art (the type displayed in galleries and museums) continues.

Graffiti artist Snacki told The New York Times: “When you put a gallery show together, it’s only going to attract a certain crowd. If I paint a billboard… it’s going to hit a lot more people than just some college hipsters or some 40-year-old art collectors.”

Senior art specialist Ruarc Peffers told The Citizen graffiti displayed in a gallery undermined the art in those galleries.

“Graffiti is street art, accessible for everyone,” said Peffers.

“Traditional art is meant for museums and galleries – it is less accessible, more exclusive. People go to galleries to see specific pieces, unlike with graffiti which is freely available in open spaces.”

Peffers added graffiti had the ability to penetrate viewers in a different context, as opposed to traditional art.

A poll on debate.org entitled “Is graffiti art?” resulted in 84% of respondents saying yes, while only 16% said no.

Some respondents said they believed graffiti was an art when used in correct areas, while others said graffiti spoil surrounding areas.

You decide.

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[dt-section-title title="Map" subtitle="Check the map below to view the locations of the various graffiti pieces."][dt-space height="30"]


Article by: JeVanne Gibbs

Images and videos by: Tracy Lee Stark