Transforming a community one mural at a time: A Local Artist’s inspiration

Great strides have been made as part of the Indawo, Abantu, Injongo E Khayelitsha initiative. Busiswa Nomyayi and her team, with the support of The Umvoto Foundation (TUF), have partnered with a local artist Seth, to incorporate transformative art into their cleaning and beautification projects in Griffiths Mxenge, Khayelitsha. Last week one of these projects came to a fruitful end, when Seth completed a mural on one of the walls on Hlontlo Street, where their work is focused. We had the opportunity to chat to Seth and ask him more about his work and this initiative in Khayelitsha.

About the artist

Seth has been doing graffiti for almost 20 years and recently founded his company, Khoiligraffi. He decided on the name of his company through inspiration that he has obtained by reflecting on the relationship between wall art and people throughout history. From the Khoisan people having drawn cave art, to graffiti art today, wall art is something that is inherent to society. It speaks to something deep within the human spirit, to instinctively want to depict a meaning and send a message in a permanent way. He believes that in the context of community empowerment, graffiti has the potential to inspire and uplift others.

Response to the mural

The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. This includes the landowner, the many residents who offered their signatures in support of the mural, as well as the adjacent school, Chuma Primary, which overlooks the mural. The school mentioned how pleased they are to have something bright, artistic and positive in the area. By having the mural here they are hoping that it will help inspire creativity in the students since the school does not have any art programmes.

Seth stated that during any given project, he receives at least one or two negative comments from passers-by or residents – this is inevitable with street art. He, however, noted that this was the first time in his extensive career that this was not the case. Seth said it was significant that there was not a single negative response from the community. He had a few ideas why this mural was so well received.

The success of the mural from the artist’s perspective

Mural design

The design elements of the mural were carefully thought out and involved discussions with Seth and Busiswa. They decided that it would be important to represent the community in the mural. One of the ways that this was done, was by the representation of the isiXhosa language. This, of course, was also chosen as it represented the name of Busiswa’s initiative. Seth was careful in selecting a font that would be familiar and appropriate to the area, as well as utilizing bright colours so that the message would stand out. He believes that all of these elements made the artwork relatable to the residents. They, therefore, most likely felt accurately represented and proud of the artwork. 

Community led project

Seth suggested that this project was also well received because it was community led. This work all started in the community itself, driven by a group of women who wanted to see a positive change. They know and understand the members of their community and what efforts they would appreciate. A possible reason the community felt represented in this mural was because members of their own community were gifting them with a visual representation of the positive work that is already being done.

Lessons learnt from this project

The need for projects to be community led, serves as an important lesson for us as a Non-Profit Company (NPC), and is very much why TUF advocates so greatly for a collaborative approach. Ensuring that projects are relevant, have context and are led by community members is essential to the success of not just any one project, but ultimately the sustainable empowerment of local communities. This is TUF’s ultimate goal and was the vision of our late founder, Rowena Hay. As an NPC, we should offer our resources and skills in such a way as to work alongside local community members in their efforts of taking ownership of their environments, as Busiswa and her team have done.

Since the mural has been up, Busiswa has noted more foot traffic on Hlontlo Street. She noted that people have been changing their daily walking routes to pass the mural. This will only further benefit the Indawo, Abantu, Injongo E Khayelitsha initiative as more people will become aware of their efforts and get involved. Ultimately the hope is that this leads to other people in the community being inspired to see what positive change they can make.