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Thursday, September 15, 2011


Article by Latoya Newman appearing in Tonight on September 12, 2011. (Reproduced by kind permission of Tonight)

The arrest of seven graffiti artists last month can in a way be seen as one of those situations where a negative has sparked off a positive.

Never before has there been such an intense, sustained awakening in Durban in creating awareness around street art culture versus acts of vandalism – two very different things.

At the time of their arrests the artists were spray painting a wall in honour of a friend killed in a car accident, in broad daylight, when they were apprehended by metro police officers.

The argument that has played out in the media since the arrests has been two sided: one being that the group are artists and not vandals, and that they had permission from the owner to paint the wall, in Durban’s Sydney Road. The other being that the wall is actually municipal property, not privately owned, and that they had no permission to paint it. The group are currently out on bail and are set to appear in court again this week, where there will hopefully be some clarity and closure on the matter.

But zooming out of this particular case and looking at the broader picture, it has resulted in domino effect of artistic action in creating awareness around street culture.

Over the past few weeks a host of events and drives have taken place to help educate the public on the difference between vandalism and street art/culture.

Never before has there been so many public opportunities for people to be enlightened about this art form that is sadly still largely socially confined to being acts of destruction. The big question is now whether we are prepared to step out of the box and explore the medium before condemning it to criminality.

Just last week the COLLECTIVE art gallery launched their Follow Your Art exhibition, showcasing some of the finest and most innovative street art pieces I’ve seen – including converting skateboard decks into something of a modern day canvas.

At the various events organisers are constantly explaining the difference between tagging (usually done late at night or early hours of the morning, usually without permission and is normally in the form of a symbol/encrypted word depicting the name of the person or crew responsible for the tag) and graffiti art – a creative and artistic expression.

And this week there will be yet another opportunity to explore the depths of street art movements at The Life Check Youth Development’s Paint the Future Party.

Iain Ewok Robinson from Life Check explained the party. “The party will be held on the night of the court case in solidarity with the artists… The Paint The Future project is actually a graffiti art crew who don’t do anything illegal. Some of the guys arrested are part of the crew. The crew does work at children’s homes, shelters and NGOS who want unsightly walls painted. But the crew doesn’t have money for aerosol cans or artist fees, so the Paint the Future Party is actually a fundraiser for quality aerosol, where your ticket is in the form of a donation of a can of quality aerosol,” he explained.

The Party features popular artists Jet Wentworth, Spitmunky and Veranda Panda. One ticket/can (R50) gets you a Jet Wentworth “Flightpath” EP (a six or four track album) and a customized t-shirt, two cans of paint (R100), earns a Jet Wentworth “Flightpath” EP, a Spitmunky Album and a customized t-shirt and three cans of paint (R150) gets you a Jet Wentworth “Flightpath” EP, a Spitmunky album, a customized t-shirt and an authentic customized artwork.

“These cans will be stockpiled so that when we do get approached to beautify a shelter or a school etc, we have the equipment… It is time to stop equating graffiti art with crime. Yes, there is vandalism, but there is a side that is contemporary street art,” said Robinson, who is also a world renowned spoken word artist and hip hop activist and a talented actor – most recently seen on stage in KickstArt Production’s God of Carnage. - Latoya Newman, Tonight

(Paint the Future Party happened at Alliance Francaise in Morningside last night. Call 031 312 9582 for more info.)