Ghetto Art Gallery, a gray building with colourful graffiti, is located at 135 Bird Street, between Stellenbosch, Kayamandi, Cloetesville, Idas Valley, Klapmuts, Jamestown and the surrounding farms. The owners, Bongo Flepu and Vuyo Migijima, hope that this location will help attract people to the gallery from all these different areas. This differs from most of the galleries in Stellenbosch which are primarily aimed at white and rich inhabitants of the town and at tourists. In contrast, Ghetto Art Gallery is accessible to all.
Flepu and Migijima hope to not only expose people to art who don’t usually go to galleries, but also to provide a platform for up and coming artists who haven’t yet broken through to the elite art world. In this way they provide a service to the community as well as making sure that the art that they exhibit is unique and wasn’t exhibited elsewhere. On the 17th of April, when I visited the gallery, I am especially taken with the work of Anathi Tyawa and that of Lunga Kama. Tyawa mixes Christian and Xhosa symbolism and traditions in his work, and Kama takes large black and white photos of the human body.
The building in which Ghetto Art Gallery is situated is itself striking. It used to be a Bokommo mill and traces of this history are still visible. According to Flepu and Migijima the building’s appearance is partly attributable to their limited budget, but also due to the fact that they realised that a rough appearance is suitable to a ghetto gallery. Migijima mentions, for instance, that the lighting cables remind him of the electric cables in townships, where different households share electricity illegally. He also likes that the building and town’s history is retained.
Migijima and Flepu are both artists who live in Kayamandi. Flepu’s paintings and photos are exhibited in the gallery, and Migijima is a drummer, dancer and actor. They therefore know the hustle that is required when artists want to share their art with the world. They could also identify the need for a space such as the Ghetto Art Gallery. They met while working at the Kayamandi Creative District (KCD) project which aimed at transforming houses into small galleries. They both desired a space of their own. For a long time they tried to obtain funding and shipping containers in which they could hold art exhibitions. Eventually, in January of this year, they landed at the door of Andi Norton (manager of Imagine Inc - http://www.imagine-inc.co.za/). Norton refered them to Rose Jordaan, who made the building available to them. The Municipality of Stellenbosch also gave them the opportunity to attend business classes. After years of hard work, they could realise their dream in a relatively short time. Migijima, however, emphasises that it wasn’t just good luck that got them this far, but years of hard work:
“Some day, let’s say Monday, would be a bad day for us, but we would think we’re not going to stop. Tuesday will be hey hey hey, good, guys, we’re doing good. And Wednesday will be bad again. Life, we saw, was like a traffic light. One day you’d stop, and the next day there would be like green lights. People are coming and seeing everything and buying because we understand the business. Remember, we are coming from the KCD so we saw the gap, what was lacking. Why do we want to work for other people? We’ve got the skills. We have ideas, why don’t we put our ideas together and see how far we can go.”
The idea is that Ghetto Art Gallery will not only be a gallery, but also be a venue for workshops and performances, and also a place where crafts can be bought and sold. Migijima and Flepu are still busy renovating the room in which performances will take place. Christo Kleinhans, form the band The Young Folks, will be involved in the organising of performances. One initial plan is that “Jam Sandwhich” (http://www.tvsa.co.za/shows/viewshow.aspx?showid=1373) type collaborations will take place. In other words, divergent bands and musicians will write songs together. In this way Ghetto Art Gallery will be a space where art is created, and not just exhibited.
Flepu ends our conversation with the impromptu performance of one of his poems – a poem in which the Ghetto Art Gallery’s principle that art can be created from the everyday and the unlikely is encapsulated:
Photos by C-J Sidego.