International Public Art Festival
Grassroots art12th Feb 2021
I recently had a short preview of the 5th International Public Art Festival (IPAF) currently running in Salt River and across the city of Cape Town. Some of the artists were still busy at work but – and this is the best thing about public art – many of the works from previous years are still up. So, unlike many art festivals, this is both permanent and iterative, and many residents benefit by having their homes beautified by the artists.
Art that speaks to the community
We strolled around Salt River as a group, but it was clear that everyone had their favourite art pieces, and each told a story. One of the more interesting was a piece from the 2019 festival for which the theme was ‘Generation Next – educate, collaborate, empower.’ Painted by Justin Nomad, on the side of a house, it depicts three children in front of a huge bookshelf. It’s a beautiful piece that can stand alone but, once it was up, some of the older residents pointed out an interesting fact. It was painted directly across the road from where the mobile library used to park in the 1970s and 1980s. ‘The mobile library was necessary,’ explains street art guide Nadia Agherdine, ‘because Salt River was a “coloured” area sandwiched between Observatory and Woodstock. But we couldn’t use the whites-only Woodstock and Observatory libraries.’
‘The library would come on a – I think it was a Wednesday,’ says Kulsum Viljoen, whose uncle used to drive the bus that housed the books. ‘And people would bring back the books they’d read, and get new ones.’
So, as well as being a beautiful artwork in its own right, this particular piece is a poignant reminder to the community of its past. There is still no permanent library in Salt River, but – unlike during apartheid – residents use the nearby Woodstock Library.
The end of an era
Cape Town’s mobile library service is an essential intellectual and social lifeline for communities that do not have public libraries, and – at present – it serves about 27 communities throughout the greater Cape Town area. Sadly, though, the service is being phased out due to budget constraints.
Hmm – is there an interesting sponsorship opportunity here?
Tour the IPAF
IPAF runs (officially) until 14th February, and you can book a tour here. But, if you can’t make it during the actual festival, you will be able to see the artworks at any time thereafter. That’s the beauty of public art. It is public. And, while some may be ephemeral, most of it will last at least a few months, more likely a few years.