Street Art of Maboneng
The word graffiti conjures up a rather negative image and is often associated with vandalism of our urban areas. It is seen as an eye sore and linked with deprived areas, unemployment, and gangs, where youth leave their mark on walls, bridges, and trains in form of ‘tags’ (names written in a stylised fashion or by using stencils).
I think we all understand what I am trying to say. However, after our graffiti walking tour with Past Experiences in Maboneng and surrounding areas in Jo’burg, I have come to view graffiti as something much more positive, creative, expressive, beautiful, colourful, and in many cases a form of raw, urban art. I prefer to call it street art, just because the word does not have the same negative connotation as graffiti.
Graffiti artists see their work as a means to take back some of the public space that is overrun by billboards lining our streets, banners on public transport, and an array of signs on shop fronts. This advertising by large corporates is legal and therefore accepted by the general public. However, could advertising be classed as vandalism of our public space? Like the Coca Cola’s of this world dominating South Africa’s signage, from schools to small spaza shops, not only littering our public space with ugly, monotonous red advertising boards, but also manipulating the public into buying their product? I believe so!
Street art is a means of expression, a message to the world stating I am here, I exist, and I have a voice – not dissimilar to the messages in ancient rock art.
The aimless tagging, the marking of territory, is not what I am talking about. I mean proper street art that Liam Miller describes perfectly: “genuine street art does not aim at ownership, but at capturing and sharing a concept. Street art adds to public discourse by putting something out into the world; it is the start of a conversation”.
Indeed, street art is a powerful tool for urban communication. It can give a voice to the voiceless, addressing political or wildlife issues.
Street art can improve the aesthetics of urban areas, especially when street artists share their colourful and beautiful pieces with underprivileged communities and enhance their daily lives. On our walk, Mars (aka Mr Morris) explained how street artists often broker deals with house owners, who cannot afford to repaint the outside of their property, and offer their wall as a blank canvas.
The graffiti tour took us around the Maboneng, Jeppestown, and Troyeville areas, all bordering on the Maboneng Precinct, an inner city redevelopment project with loft apartments, offices, hotel, and independent shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Many of the businesses in the Maboneng Precinct area have commissioned street artists to put their mark on the area and enhance the Precinct’s unique aesthetic.
Whether street art is created for the love of ‘writing’, on a commission basis, or several artists working together, whatever the reason or background of the street art, their public nature makes it unique, powerful, and wonderful, and maybe most importantly for everybody to enjoy.
To me, street art adds personality, colour, and humour to our often bland, grey, and sometimes depressing urban spaces.