Mural part of City's public art programme

By Lucille Davie

© City of Johannesburg website www.joburg.org.za - http://www.joburg.org.za/2006/dec/dec12_graffiti.stm

A large mural has appeared on the corner of Carr and Ntemi Piliso streets – the first in the City's new public art programme.

The 17m by 5m colourful Aids mural, done by artists Tshepo Mofokeng and Mandla Manana, depicts township houses and city skyscrapers, below a starry sky, with red ribbons tied around the buildings reading: Condomise; Prevention is better than [cure]; Keep the promise – accountability; Abstain; and Stop the stigma against HIV/Aids.

It is part of the City's policy of making Aids a priority.

The City's public art policy was approved in October. "World-class cities are characterised by numerous opportunities to enjoy public art within a vibrant public environment," says Eric Itzkin, the deputy director of immovable heritage in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Department. He is in charge of the policy together with Steven Sack, the director in the department.

Public art encompasses mosaic, sculptures, fountains, paving, light sculptures, building wraps, decorative bollards and elements of buildings, Itzkin says.

"Public art makes places memorable, so creating a sense of place and destination." This in turn acts as a source of civic pride and local identity among the city's residents, and could be used to promote the use and enjoyment of public space.

"Diverse new artworks can be democratic and empowering, helping to integrate people across the divides of apartheid," he says.

The City has installed three major public artworks: the bronze statue of MK Gandhi at Gandhi Square in 2003; a steel sculpture entitled "Open Arms" outside Uncle Tom's Community Hall in Orlando West in 2005; and nine large steel tree sculptures in Juta Street, Braamfontein, in July 2006.

Mofokeng and Manana recently requested permission from the City to paint the mural and a site was chosen – on the city end of the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Says Mofokeng: "I am living with a person with HIV, and I wanted to tell her story without revealing who she is. She is a friend and I love her so much."

The artists have completed another mural – on the walls of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. It was unveiled on Youth Day, 16 June, and is done is the form of silhouettes.

In 2005 the department began assembling a database of public art in the city. Over 40 artworks have since been recorded and the process is ongoing. "This forms part of a broader project to identify all cultural assets in the city, including historic buildings, landmark sites, museums, artworks and artefacts," Itzkin explains.

The database will also be useful to guide a systematic programme of repair and maintenance of the artworks. Restoration work has been carried out on Credo Mutwa Cultural Village in Jabavu over the past year. In addition, four historic monuments have been restored this year: the Ferreira Deep Monument, the Indian War Memorial, the Cottesloe Monument and the Randjeslaagte Beacon.

Executive Mayor Amos Masondo is keen to see a prominent artwork in Sophiatown, which was given back its original name in February this year after being renamed Triomf in the 1970s. Itzkin says this is an opportunity to engage the youth in the creation of a memorial park in the suburb.

Under the new policy a Public Art Approvals Committee will be set up that will select new artworks and guide the management of the City's public art collection. The committee will also be in charge of cleaning up existing public art, particularly removing graffiti, and painting areas with a graffiti-resistant solution.

Every year the committee will prepare a public art action plan, which will the list the status of ongoing projects; identify prospective projects and plan budgets for the coming year; and look at public art projects initiated outside the council, including private developments.

Itzkin says that some art will contain messages, like the mural, but variety will be encouraged. "Some of the future artworks will be 'message-driven', although I shouldn't expect that this will be the case for all. Each piece should be unique, with the potential to stimulate and surprise, as well as to inform."