Township Tour with a Twist – the Maboneng Township Arts Experience

Experience township life and local art with the Langa Township Arts Gallery Tour

On Rubusana Street, in the Langa Quarter, there is a row of brightly painted houses. But these homes aren’t decked in vibrant colours purely for aesthetics – they form part of a walking art gallery tour. 

More specifically, the bold abodes lend themselves to a community development scheme known as the Langa TAG (Township Art Gallery), the Cape Town offshoot of the Maboneng Townships Arts Experience. Now an official project of the World Design Capital 2014, the venture gives local and international visitors alike the chance to appreciate the work of Mzansi artists in a unique way.

Since its inception, the Maboneng Township Arts Experience has served as a national public arts enterprise, transforming township homes around South Africa into galleries and performance areas. The aim behind the project has been multi-directed; to lift the stereotypes associated with township life by encouraging people to see the beauty and creativity therein, and to celebrate the role of arts in society.

The Maboneng Township Arts Experience originally took off in 2001 in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, before making its way to Madadeni in Kwa-Zulu Natal and finally to Cape Town some years later. The initial Mother City leg began in Gugulethu with an annual arts festival, but as of October 2013, has expanded into a permanent exhibition in Cape Town’s oldest township Langa.

Maboneng is the brainchild of Siphiwe Ngwenya, who grew up in Alexandra. He credits his upbringing for inspiring his artistic endeavours:

“When I was growing up in Alexandra I used to draw a lot. I’d take onion boxes and draw on them in charcoal. When I got to high school I started wanting to exhibit my work but I didn’t have a place to do so. I was turned down by art galleries.”  

Siphiwe, who later attended the National School of Arts in Johannesburg before becoming a founding member of hip hop/rap outfit Skwatta Kamp, came to see art as an outsider and a stronghold of the elite. He sought a way to bring creative talents closer to the people and, in the same stroke, wear away at the stigma associated with township life.

“Art is actually an internal thing, it’s the basis of all culture and it gives evidence of what’s going on.  I wanted to create a way to bridge that divide, to make art accessible,” says the creative thinker.  He also maintains that what distinguishes the undertaking is its emphasis on sustainability. “The whole thing of art coming to the township ‘because it needs colour’ isn’t it; the stakes must be higher. People need not only jobs but to create businesses. So we’re thinking long-term here.”

For those visiting the Langa TAG, the idea is for guests to meet a local guide outside one of the participating homes, who then takes you along the tour, explaining the project, the homes and the art along the way.

By opening up their homes as gallery spaces, the participating homeowners of the Langa TAG have taken on the onus of running a small business. They are equally responsible for the tour guides who take visitors through the homes and ultimately receive a lump sum from the ticket sales. With assistance from the African Arts Institute, members have received training in production management, guiding and painting hanging, as well as help in areas of tourism and administration.

For exhibitor Tracey Uzukwa the value of the project has been to learn business skills:

“This wasn’t something I was previously exposed to and now I am. We meet once a week to discuss the vision and goals of the project, which has been helpful.”

Meanwhile, Mabel Plaatjies, who by day teaches students at a finishing school, says the value is not only to bring exposure to local artists but also to promote the role of artistic education within communities:

“Art is something that we who don’t know must learn about. It can be a wonderful tool and we need to be educated about it. For example a kid who is struggling academically at school might find that he is gifted in other ways, in art, and this needs to be nurtured.”

For these women, who have opened their doors since late 2013 when the Langa stint of the project kicked off, there is no feeling of ill will toward the strangers that pass their thresholds. For some, receiving foreigners in their intimate spaces would be daunting, but Mabel harks back to the age-old African spirit of Ubuntu. “We are born this way. We greet each other…so it’s easy to welcome and accept someone you’ve never seen. It’s in us,” she says.

The exhibitions and featured creatives vary throughout the year, but visitors can expect to see a variety of styles and artists, including drawings, paintings and linocuts from the likes of Velile Soha, Patrick Holo and Zolani Siphungela.

The Maboneng Township Arts Experience continues to expand, and Cape Town visitors can look forward to new routes in Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay in addition to the annual Gugulethu festival and the Langa TAG. Keep an eye out for an exciting partnership with the Mount Nelson Hotel as part of the World Design Capital 2014 – Maboneng’s first city based gallery, Nkanyezi, is underway and will be happening adjacent to the hotel’s popular Planet Bar.

TICKETS TO THE MABONENG TOWNSHIP ARTS EXPERIENCE IN LANGA

Tickets can be booked at Maboneng.com via Quicket.co.za  (you can also pay cash on arrival) and cost R150p/p. Shuttles to and from Langa are available at an additional cost.   

The galleries are open every day, except Sundays from 11am to 4pm.

Top tip: The walking tour will take about 45-60 minutes, so to make the most of your time grab a coffee at the Langa Quarter or enjoy a truly South African meal at Mzansi Restaurant.
Mzansi Restaurant | 45 Harlem Avenue | Langa | +27 (0) 21 694 1656 or +27 (0) 73 754 8502  

By Georgina Selander

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