South Africa: A country known for its natural settings, massive landmarks, and tumultuous history. In South Africa, lies Emfuleni: A township infamously known for its squalid living conditions and social despair. To merely describe the circumstances endured by Emfuleni’s inhabitants would be unjust; words are meaningless when blatantly faced with the destitution, struggle, and adversity these locals must tolerate. For no one can fully identify with these conditions unless they live it firsthand. Yet to consider their primary form of expression, their street art, invites the spectator to become aware of their reality.
More than a public marking, Emfuleni street art profoundly embodies the misery, unrest, and oppression continuously faced by South Africans today. Yet, on the flip side, these public markings beautifully communicate hope for the future; a longing for the ideal. They embody a rare combination of abhorrence and optimism; of disparity and power. The magnitude of expression and striking use of color act as a reminder of the social and political differences they face in a society built on blatant distinction.
Much like the images displayed above, the walls invite many elements of visual technique. From Bansky inspired stencils, to tribe warrior figures, the art prompts a story overflowed with imagination and fervor. The crude and [at times] ferociously bright use of color suggests anger and strain, provoking a sense of awe and trepidation. A South African street artist, who wishes to remain anonymous, passionately describes the inspiration behind his work:
It is to be trapped…To be rejected. Why else do I have motivation? We come as a whole to create a message that we are still alive; there is no escape…That’s it; serious. What else, you know? It’s that simple…It is a trap.
Trapped: Escape: Serious. What more is there to say?
For him and perhaps many other artists, the experience is cathartic. It ignites a release of tension and feelings of rejection whilst reflecting the interests of the oppressed in the most beautiful way imaginable.
These images paint a story of a tale that can only told by those who live it. The street art captivates as it evokes; luring us to step into a world too powerful for words.
(Images courtesy of Athena Newton)