Its 8 a.m. and Cape Towns boulevards are jam-packed with taxi’s and vehicles, honking impatiently at pedestrians who saunter over cross-ways in sluggish strides. Street sweepers burnish the tarmac, with brooms like paintbrushes, moving languidly by tracing spirals upon the footways. And as one moves through the cities alleyways and crevices, it is hard not to notice the spray of colour splashed upon concrete canvases, creating resplendent modern-day frescoes and active scriptures. Cape towns streets are public spaces where street artists, musicians and performers, become advocates for engagement, protest, critique, satire, humour, beauty and rebellion.
Graffiti, what used to be seen as downright vandalism – scribbles and scratches of drawings and writings on wall – has now transformed into what we call street art; a kind of storytelling and expressionism. Street art, is not to be mistaken as the hurried sprawl of letters across, bridges, walls or trains. No. Instead, it should be regarded as highly conceptualised art, a means of commentary or enhancement to that specific location. A means to oppose hegemonic discourses and communicate social and political opinions. And if the images or texts are not about the countries malfunctions they become a means to beautify and adorn the derelict buildings, exhibiting colours through the cracks in the wall. Street art is ultimately an expression culture, experience and the celebration of human agency.
There are also street entertainers like the man who sits outside the Parliament buildings posed as a living statue – a silver-like mannequin – compelling people to take a second glance at his motionless stance. Inadvertently or wittingly, he too has become an advocate for critique; commenting on the governments’ opulence by sitting outside an imposing Neoclassical edifice and wrought-iron gates whilst all he owns is a container for passersby to throw coins into.
Furthermore, there are Cape Town’s street musicians, diverse characters that perform in the Streets of Greenmarket square and Company Gardens. Their music, fills the air with hip-hop, reggae, and bluesy beats whilst tourists and locals meander about.
Public art, in its various forms, creates energy and life – it becomes an interaction between the artist and viewer. Street artists, entertainers and musicians are all vital factors to the cultural landscape of the city and by observing these individuals one can begin to understand the city’s urban narratives.