A piece I wrote on graffiti artist Faith 47

First published on March 23, 2012 in the Cape Argus

The urban landscape includes the world of the down-trodden and faceless, who sleep under bridges and stand like landmarks at traffic intersections.

It is from this nuanced, strange and challenging existence that graffiti artist Faith47 draws inspiration.

“In the years of painting in the streets I have explored many hidden-away spaces, empty Joburg high-rise buildings, old factories and pockets of broken architecture. I have been documenting the marks I find – scrawled poems on the walls, gang tags, love stories, complaints and observations carefully pencilled on walls, drawings and sentences written by stowaways who sleep under bridges,” she says.

“I find it really fascinating and often profoundly moving, as the people who have written these things are often the unseen in our society – people who have fallen by the wayside or are forgotten.”

Her mural along Keizersgracht on the outskirts of the CBD, for example, is of a woman with a child on her back. It hugs the side of an eight-storey building and is symbolically at the place where protesters gather before they march to Parliament.

She says the work was inspired by a picture her friend, Alexia Webster, took during an eviction of backyard dwellers. “I had the picture in my mind and was looking at the way African women in Cape Town are sidelined. They really are at the bottom of the economic chain, yet they’re the ones looking after everyone else. They don’t really have a space in this city. Joburg has made a lot more progress, there is a lot more interaction and a larger black middle class. I wanted to give this woman a symbolic and prominent visual space in our city.”

Faith47, who refused to be photographed, preferring her art to represent her, says her favourite place to visit outside SA is Brazil because it has similar social, political and economic issues, although street art has a place in its cities. “There are a lot more artists, and the spectrum of what they are creating is very open.”

She has been painting on the streets since 1997 and her other works can be found from Queen Victoria Street to Khayelitsha, and Parkwood Estate to Woodstock.

Her Woodstock studio is filled with paint and wooden frames. She is preparing for two exhibitions, next month in Australia and in Joburg in May. She is also looking forward to a group show in Denmark alongside husband and fellow street artist Dal.

Faith47’s studio work is more gritty, partly inspired by pamphlets handed out on the streets, and based on her experiences growing up in SA. “The energy and emotion I have found on the streets over the years has become a part of the process.”

Of the transition from street art to studio work, she says: “It has been a process of moving into the gallery environment and finding a way of working in that space that works, that’s not gimmicky. You can’t just translate one into the other… getting my head around that has been a challenge, but very rewarding.”

She says that over the years the art scene has become less elitist and more inclusive and that street art is a good medium for Africa because it takes art to people who normally wouldn’t go to galleries. “Street art brings character to the city, individuality, a point of interaction. (That) someone just went out and did it for the love of it. That’s special.”

Faith47 says artists need to do what they feel. “You go to a gallery and people do not always like what they see. With street art, it’s just that the gallery is outside. It is not possible to please everyone all the time, but it’s okay because the point is that there is freedom of expression and an open mind towards art.”

One project most people are familiar with is one she did three years ago when she decided to bring life to the Freedom Charter on walls all over Cape Town and Joburg. She does this kind of work because she has a passion for it – it’s work that most surprises her audience.

“When you paint in a community, people often assume it must be an advert and you have to explain that you’re not getting paid for it and that you are doing it for fun.

“It’s really great when they realise that. It changes their perception from everything having a monetary value.

“That some things in life are not meant to be boxed or defined. That life can be a little more free.”

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