News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Monday July 22nd 2019

Art for Social Change

Grant Williams of Cyan Developments talks to guests viewing the exhibition of art created by Cape Flats youth. Photo: John Rayner/WCN

Grant Williams of Cyan Developments talks to guests viewing the exhibition of art created by Cape Flats youth. Photo: John Rayner/WCN


Hanging on the walls of the Iziko’s Annex Gallery is a collection of work from ten of Cape Town’s emerging artists; an exhibition entitled “Appreciate, Waardeer, Yamkela Art” – the English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa words for Appreciate Art.

The artists are between 18 and 27 years old, live mostly in the Cape Flats townships, and some had never touched paint until three months ago.

Grant Williams and Celestine Doty, co-directors of Cyan Development Concepts, have been running a project called Art for Social Change, which brings art education to communities who would otherwise not have access to it.

“When people hear ‘community’ art, or ‘learners’ art they have preconceived ideas that it is not good or that it is low quality. People think it is impossible you’d have this kind of quality in three months,” says Grant Williams. And the proof is on the walls.

The project was funded by the City of Cape Town, Arts and Culture department and extended for an extra month by Cyan Development Concepts.

“When the City gave the funding for the project they wanted an awareness of arts and some skills development”, says Doty. “But we (Cyan Development Concepts) have continued to fund it so we could teach them some business and entrepreneurial skills and not send them back to the same situation.”

Williams is passionate about the importance of Art in education: “it brings very tangible skills and there is a therapeutic element. Sometimes, because of literacy levels, words might fail someone but they can engage with a picture. It is very human to be able to convey a message through creating images.

“Developing creativity and allowing someone to express themselves is vital to building the holistic person. And it allows cultural exchange, we don’t have enough of that in South Africa.”

Nkosinathi Matomela, from Khayelitsha, had never done art before he joined the Art for Social Change project, but he shyly pointed to the four pieces he had hanging on the walls.

“Thuthula (another student) is the only girl on the course,” said Doty, “she is quiet and shy but she finds a voice through her art. She is one of the top students in the group.”

Thabile Dubula, 23, also from Khayelitsha, said, “it has been a great experience. I learnt a lot. I am very proud (of being in the exhibition), I feel like a professional in the Annex Gallery of Iziko Museums.”

Dubula had done some art before but “we didn’t do photography at college. Here we learnt how to use programs such as Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom and now I have got that skill.

“I wish the project would continue. Education is very expensive. But this is free education.”

Art for Social Change does not only teach the students to express themselves artistically, it also prepares learners for further opportunities. Students are taught portfolio development, public speaking, and CV writing. Williams and Doty ensure students know about educational opportunities in colleges and tertiary institutions and about work opportunities or internship programs.

“The exhibition has been a great learning experience,” said Doty. “We made them do two weeks of market research to see if there is interest in attending a student exhibition. Then students had to liaise with a graphic designer to put together an invitation and a flyer. It was a great business lesson – all the permissions and protocol with using logos. The students did it all themselves and they learnt some astute lessons”

“And now they have to market the exhibition. It’s on till the end of the month and they need to promote their own work, and price it without being shy but without emotional attachment. That’s an important skill.”

The exhibition “Appreciate, Waardeer, Yamkela Art” is on at the Iziko Annex Gallery until the 31October. – Katie de Klee

Tags: Annex Gallery, Appreciate Waardeer Yamkela Art, Art for Social Change, Celestine Doty, Cyan Development Concepts, Grant Williams, Iziko, Nkosinathi Matomela, Thabile Dubula

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