Langa is ten minutes from my house. A few kilometres and a whole world apart.
Just off Bhunga Avenue, in Rubusana Street, is the Langa Quarter – a collection of quirky, brightly painted houses that form part of Langa’s walking art gallery tour.
We meet Xola Maswana, our guide, at Khaya Langa just behind Langa’s stadium. From its gates are enviable views of Table Mountain and the two flimsy 99 metre chimneys that now enjoy landmark status and are all that remains of Cape Town’s enormous twin cooling towers.
LANGA TAG -10 HOME GALLERIES IN AN HOUR…
Photograph: Langa Tag
Xola, who shares one of the 10 homes on the tour with her grandmother and parents, is all of eighteen years of age, self-assured and busy with a gap year. She wants to rewrite her science and biology and hopes to study something like physiotherapy at UWC next year.
As she talks about her aspirations and introduces the Maboneng Township Art Experience to us, she heads to number 75 Rubusana Street, the first of a series of township homes that use their walls to display art.
Langa Tag is the name chosen by the local community involved in the project, an effort initiated by Siphiwe Ngwenya who grew up in Alexandra in Johannesburg.
It was his frustration at not managing to exhibit his work in local art galleries that got him thinking about art in a totally new light.
No longer content to allow art to remain a stronghold of the elite, Siphiwe came up with an idea to bring art closer to the people.
At the same time he wanted to address the stigma attached to townships and allow those living there to consider creating sustainable business right from their front lounges.
Photograph: Graffiti at Langa Stadium
Langa Tag is not his first initiative. He has introduced similar in Alex, Gugulethu and hopes to continue a new route in Imizamo Yethu.
At the same time, the people whose walls serve as hanging space earn a portion of the proceeds for sharing their walls.
If you are like Mama Sidloyi then you’ve gone the extra mile and have crocheted table mats and hats from recycled plastic to sell from your kitchen to those art lovers keen to have a sourvenir to take home with them.
Siphiwe, as the initiative’s curator, hand selects art from only those artists he considers viable. It is an unusual encounter: entering someone’s front parlour in the midst of a township to view art – and rather far removed from the average art gallery experience.
One’s eyes are not drawn to the furniture or the choice of curtains, although these certainly form a novel backdrop to the art. Instead, stuck on the walls (some art was hung on a nail, some was taped) is a selection of art one would not usually get to see.
And in the first house is a further surprise. For Siphiwe has included the paintings of 8-year old Buhle Lekoma, whose art obviously meets with his approval. I enjoy its happiness and bold colours.
Photograph: Langa Tag : The Houses
Other artists we are to see include Zolani Siphungela, Patrick Holo, Velile Soha, and Gerald Tabata.
Proceeds of every piece of art are shared amongst the house owner (10%), the Langa Tag project (5%), the curator (15%) and the artist (70%).
Of the artists, says Xola, Patrick Hola has been selling the best. And when I ask her about the demographics of those who buy the art, she concedes that it is only about one in every five who is a South African. Most of their buyers are visitors to the city.
We end our tour with a walk along the graffiti wall of the Langa stadium. The art is not by Langa locals. Xola muses that it seems to take them a long time to get involved.
To attend a tour of the Langa Tag will cost you R105 a person and will take about an hour to complete. It takes place every day between 11am and 4pm, except on Sundays, but you will need to book your tour with either Xola on 079 996 5495 or Siphiwe on 073 777 8937.
To find out more about the Maboneng Gugulethu Arts Experience and the Alexandra experience, contact Siphiwe on 073 777 8937.
Photograph: Xola enjoys the work of Velile Soh