26 May Urban Renaissance: The African graffiti movement
Africa is rapidly growing into one of the biggest cultural powerhouses for the arts. A melting pot with diverse influences, from both abroad and at its very roots. It is the new vanguard. In terms of graffiti and street art, it boasts the smallest output, but is not as insignificant as one would imagine.
When I set up my website, Graffiti South Africa in 2011, one of my favourite things to uncover was the new graffiti popping up everywhere else on the continent. There wasn’t much abound – Banksy’s short visit to Mali and a few mosaic stick-ups by Invader in Kenya, as wells as Parisian photographer, JR’s incredible Women Are Heroes project, also in Kenya. My ‘Rest of Africa‘ section was created to exclusively document these finds as there weren’t many international street art blogs doing so at the time. Stumbling across a video of artist David Choe exploring the Congo looking for dinosaurs was highly unforeseen, and I was constantly finding more big-name street artists gallivanting on our continent.
Unlike the classic New York graffiti style, euro-style, and Brazil’s pichação, African graffiti doesn’t have its own easily recognisable style. Most of the artists have drawn inspiration from abroad through books, music videos and the internet. Slowly but surely more African-based artists are exploring their own unique surroundings and incorporating original African designs into their work. A lot of international artists who visit the continent tend to paint African themes and symbols in their work, but who better to do it than the African artists themselves? Further north, artists like eL Seed work in the Arabic graffiti style which is popular in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. Morocco is also a popular destination as it is located just off the Spanish coast.
Gambia and Senegal, which seem like highly unlikely spray-cation destinations, have become popular with two of the continent’s most vibrant street art festivals – namely, Wide Open Walls and Festigraff. The ever growing rise of hip hop culture is also an important influence, especially in countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Angola with their growing music scenes.
Barely getting as much graffiti tourism as Europe or Asia, I still get very excited when I come across new work on the continent. Having found and posted blogs from over 30 African countries, the below includes some of my highlights.
Right here, right now | South Africa
Starting at home, South Africa’s graffiti scene is probably the biggest and most thriving in all of Africa. The culture has garnered vast growth in recent years, especially as it becomes a more recognised (and accepted) art form.
Artists from neighbouring countries are paying close attention to our scene and young, new artists are developing without having to look too far for inspiration.
SoloOne “Grafrica” installation at City of Gold Festival. Johannesburg, 2015:
“The idea is to take graffiti art and use it as a tool of empowerment, but at a micro level – to open young people’s minds to art on the street.” – Solo One (UK)
Branching out | Southern Africa
Graffiti tourism has played a major role in the worldwide graffiti movement, lest we forget colonisation in Africa. Foreign visitors traverse from far and wide to paint in Africa, thus bringing their graffiti styles with them in the first place, and, in turn, inspiring local artists and future writers when their work adorns the walls of public spaces.
“Painting in Angola is very, very different compared to first world countries. Here, people are more curious and they interrupt you. They stop and watch you painting. They ask you to put their name on the wall or ask you to teach them,” remarks Spent, a graffiti artist from Angola’s BAW (Best African Writers) crew. “We don’t have graffiti shops and we only use local paint, which is very limited, but the scene is growing in a good way. There’s a lot of guys with real skills!”
In Mozambique, there isn’t much of a graffiti scene, but in the wise words of Eko; “It’s always good to bring colour to places that have never seen a piece of graffiti”.
Feasting on culture | Senegal
Dakar, Senegal is an unlikely place to find graffiti and has one of the biggest outputs on the continent. Festigraff, a yearly graffiti festival since 2010, has hosted artists from across the north of Africa, as well as graffiti stalwarts like photographer Martha Cooper and our very own, Falko One.
Further north | Egypt and Tunisia
Egypt’s graffiti revolution spiralled due to the political climate in 2011. Subsequently, two books were published; Revolution Graffiti – Street Art of the New Egypt by Mia Grondahl (Thames & Hudson) and Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution (From Here to Fame).
eL Seed, of French-Tunisian descent, is an important street art figure, painting in a style known as “calligraffiti” on six continents of the globe. Having painted townships in Cape Town and the abandoned Star Wars film set in southern Tunisia, his recent anamorphic work, across 50 buildings in the slums of Cairo, pays homage to the city’s rubbish collectors and recyclers.
Going big | Djerbahood
150 street artists from 30 nationalities? Djerbahood is an urban art festival that takes place in the small village of Er-Riadh on the island of Djerba in Tunisia. Some of the world’s biggest names like Roa, Pantonio, Phlegm, Faith47 and Swoon were involved.
A kingdom of urban art | Morocco
The Kingdom of Morocco features a burgeoning graffiti arena with festivals like JIDAR Toiles de Rue in the capital, Rabat, and Festival Remp’Arts in Azemmour. The Marrakech Biennale also hosted it’s 6th street art partnership project this year.
“Our goal is to become a strong place of creation, of artistic development for the artist, a place of research and quality, and a place of artistic and cultural sharing” says the residency’s Press & Communication Manager, Elise Lavigne. Artists who have enjoyed time at Jardin Rouge include MadC, Reso, Tilt, Ceet, Goddog, Kashink, Wow123, Tats Cru and 123Klan.
Breezing across borders | Breeze Yoko
What makes Africa a great place to paint is the fact that travelling between countries isn’t too complicated (although some may tend to disagree with the length of time they may wait at a border post). Breeze Yoko is a South African artist who has painted in a range of countries, both in Europe and Africa.
Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and even Mauritania have all welcomed the work of the multi-disciplinary artist. “It’s been both fun and challenging in many aspects,” remarks Breeze when asked about painting in other parts of Africa. “It’s very hard to find the kind of spray paints I have become accustomed to at home (mainly the imported brands from Germany and Spain). This factor also contributed to how and what I painted and possibly taught me one of the most valuable life lessons – work with what you have.”
“People in Africa are curious in general and are not shy to enquire about what you are doing. In many cases it was the first time they had seen anyone use a spray can to produce a piece or painting. People are not afraid to engage in your work, trying to interpret the meaning of it. One should be more aware and conscious of what they put up.”
Breeze took part in the Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Project, as well as painted at the Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Ghana. “In Accra, they are doing interesting and exciting work on the walls. There’s a large sense of self-awareness and people work with what they have. Africa is full of walls and people with open hearts, and is rising faster than we may see. If they don’t break these walls down, then one can cover them with the colour of love, dreams and aspirations (if not our frustrations).”
“Popularity of the term ‘Street Art’ has made graffiti less feared and more tolerable, even galleries may snatch you up. Some countries have such outrageous laws about painting in public, while others have no laws about it at all. The possibilities are endless and there’s an exciting future that lies ahead for graffiti and street art in Africa.”
Africa’s urban art movement is still fairly young but is definitely something to keep your eyes on. Visit Graffiti South Africa to stay updated.
Cale Waddacor is based in Johannesburg where he works in the film and television industry. He is passionate about all forms of the arts, especially graffiti. He runs the Graffiti South Africa website and has since published a book with the same name. He would love to take on the rest of Africa next.
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