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Thursday, 25 September 2014


What is art and why does it matter? Art is the way we can communicate with one another in a language that neither of us may understand.  Art allows us to look at our society from different perspectives, to feel empathy, to contemplate and to realise that we are not always alone in our loneliness.  This event is my favourite this year, perhaps in many years!

What was it about this one event that just made me smile and feel so happy that someone had got it right?  I heard about the event and was very excited that something was happening in a park, near my home, in the evening! I had no idea what it was.  To give you a brief background to the context…Jeppestown is a poor community.  It is over populated and this leads to many problems. Crime, security and safety being at the top of that list, but also simple things like lots of rubbish on the streets.  I recently discovered why this happens: the owners of the properties do not want to pay for extra bins and Pikitup only collects rubbish that is in the bins, so the rubbish accumulates on the streets. The area borders on Johannesburg CBD. 

Litter in Jeppestown

  I had never been to this particular park before, but often went to one a little closer to my house.  I am sure the issues are the same.  The park near my house always has broken glass lying around.  My kids and other kids in the area have said that they are going to help keep it clean and we have planned to take rubbish bins and clean up.  The older kids explained to me that the park is a mess because of “skelms” (dodgy guys) that come and hang out in the park in the evenings; they get drunk, shoot and leave a mess.  So this event really excited me as it was dealing with the same issues that I had seen less than a kilometre away.  If the parks are full of people, then the “skelms” can’t own them.

We arrived early to Jeppe Park Superdream, there were a group of kids gathering around a bicycle so we joined them.  The bicycle allowed one person at a time to sit and peddle, this turned a stop animation of photographs and ‘took the rider for a walk through a park in England’.  You went through the paths, seeing the trees and the scenery of the area.  There were hundreds of photos!  The kids lined up to get a chance to ‘take a ride’. 

We then went wondering through artworks which were silhouettes of people and their thoughts on their community and Jeppe Park. 

Then on we went to the other side of the park for a game of table soccer. 

There were artworks, lights, stages and projections all over the park,

Ark, Installation in Jeppe Park, Mariam Rezaei

Lights on the brooms as people cleaned the park

The event started at 7pm.  It was dark. It was cold. We gathered around a drum fire for a while as a lady cooked mealies.  

We were all asked to take a seat as a young woman welcomed us. She was soft spoken and nervous.  She said her hellos and asked us to move to another stage in another part of the park.  We ran over as we noticed a movie playing and loud music coming from the screen.  The excitement was overwhelming!  The kids were asked to sit on the floor in the front, the adults behind.  We then watched a short film.  It was funny.  It was Laurel and Hardy African Style.  We were giggling, especially the kids.  The film was about a superhero from Jeppestown.
It tells of a security guard who is the victim of a mugging at Jeppe Park.  He goes to a sangoma for protection muti.  Overdosing gives him super powers and he becomes teh protector of those attacked at the park and throughout Jeppestown.  He hides up trees for a bird's eye view. (Rabbie Serumula)

The film was wonderful, we watched and recognised the areas that the superhero was in.  The kids shouted when there was a bad guy, and cheered when he saved someone.  The audience was laughing together.  At one point a man came and stood infront of everyone.  We all shouted at him telling him to move, but he didn't notice. We were in stitches laughing - complete strangers - he then realised, turned, smiled and sat down.

As the movie ended we heard that same young woman talking from the other stage - we all ran as fast as we could to get a seat, laughing and giggling. She had started speaking: nervous, stuttering.  The audience spoke over her and she got even more nervous.  She then began saying her poem.  It was a poem in Zulu, typical whitey, I didn't understand and luckily the lady next to me didn't mind translating.  Every sentence she said , her confidence built, and so did the response in the audience.  It was a transformation like nothing I had seen before.  Her poem was about taking the streets back: it was saying that it is up to us.  Speaking in her language and speaking about something that she believed in gave her such confidence which changed the reaction from the audience completely.  Everyone cheered for her words and shouted in agreement.  The evening continued in the same light, with dancers, rappers, art and movies and with the same mood of excitement, community and warmth.

The crowds watching the performances

Jeppe's superhero

My last two blogs have been about the lack of viewer engagement in our galleries.  I have received quite a lot of responses, often against my words and views, which I welcome (I welcome positive feedback too!).  The one point that many have raised is that artists need to make a living and the white cube concept and methods allows them to do this.  I hear them completely.  I understand the need to make a living, I am sure we all do!  What concerns me is that the commercialization of art has become the identity of art.  Our galleries are where we meet, where we see art and discuss art. Our galleries bring in an audience that is well educated, middle class and often open minded enough to be questioning the ideas artists are raising.  We are happily patting one other on our backs, complimenting and feeling very smart - together, preaching to the converted.  Are we having any real impact within society?  Do we care?  

The Jeppe Superdream was a huge success  for a number of reasons.  The artists allowed their creativity and skill to facilitate the ideas and imaginations of the people that are affected by the issues raised.  There was no sense that an outsider had landed, done something cool and moved on.  There was a strong feeling that this was about community.  The issues being spoken about were highlighted artistically, through dance, music, film, art.  There was no preaching, there was no judgement.  Sitting in the audience there was a strong feeling of positivity and excitement at the idea of change and at the idea that WE are that change!

Could this have been achieved without art?

Many argue with me that art has always only appealed to the minority within society.  Art has always been exclusive and that there is nothing wrong with that.  Really?  Your justification for the methods we use within the art world is that it has always been done that way?  Well in that case nothing within society need to change - woman can remain second class citizens, blacks can remain oppressed by whites, and so on.  History is not enough of a reason to keep things as they are.

This event proved that art is not elitist, nor pretentious.  Art can be loved by all.  It is a method that allows us to engage with one another, to discuss difficult topics in a way that everyone can understand on some level.

Who knows maybe the only thing that is missing from our society is art that is for everyone; art that does not follow the rules of history and creates new methods of engagement and relevance within society.  I truly hope to see and be apart of many more events like this one!

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