Breeze across borders

Breeze Yoko has a lot going on this week. He’s got visas to collect. Commissions to wrap up. A new tenant to sort out. And then there’s his Paint it Black Jam Fundraiser at the Troyeville Tea Garden this Saturday. Because in June, this cool Joburg-based film and graffiti artist will head off on the annual Invisible Borders Trans-Continental Road Trip.

The journey kicks off in Nigeria and ends in Bosnia in October 2014. Yip, five months... Hitting more than 20 African and European countries, the trip brings together artists from across our continent to team up with each another and the communities they meet. They’ll be giving borders ‘the whatever’ through photography, filmography, writing and art.

Every artist needs to come up with his or her own funding for visas, equipment and materials though. And the costs for just the visas (and there are a lot) are an admin and finance mission. The group, The Brother Moves On wanted to help out and the next step was a fundraiser for all-round good guy, Breeze. It’s turned into one of this month's coolest gigs with TBMO, Im Pande Core and Msaki part of the line-up. And anyone can go to show Breeze some love.

I would have been vrot stressed at this point. Breeze looks like he’s going with the flow. Well he’s even made time to talk to me. We’re at the Troyeville Hotel, drinking some hectic strong coffee. He does look tired. “I’ve not been sleeping that much. At this stage, I do what I can do. If you stress, you’re incapable of doing anything,” says Breeze.

He’s stoked to be going of course. It’s once-in-a-lifetime stuff – even if you have to fork out for those visas and worry about getting 100 spray cans to Nigeria. His ambition with the trip is to provide a different eye on what Africa has to offer – changing the perception that black – in all instances – is bad news. “It’s about creating different images of Africa than the normal, the ‘whole of Africa is in trouble’ ones,” mentions Breeze. And of course “meeting interesting people doing interesting things” and graffiti artists in the different communities, learning how they do work and “how free their walls are”.  

If you Google Breeze, you would have read this quote, which is also on the Invisible Borders website: “Growing up on the turbulent streets of Gugulethu (Cape Town) during apartheid, there was graffiti everywhere. There was one particular wall which had a very big tag in red paint that read, ‘Biko Lives’. I had often looked at the wall, but never paid much attention to it because it was just another name of the many missing and jailed freedom fighters of that time.

“One day, when I was only nine years old I walked past that very same wall and noticed that ‘lives’ had been crossed out and ‘rots in hell’ had replaced it in the very same red paint. Perplexed, I started asking my mother who Steve Biko was and why he was he rotting in hell? This is how my socio-political awareness and life as an artist began.”

But he only put his finger on the ‘trigger’ when he was 21 and joined a graffiti crew, which went through a few name changes. Since those early his work has been layered in meaning.

“In the 1990s, we were youth trying to be heard. The medium wasn’t recognised then. Like rap when nobody liked it. We were identifying with the generation of the time, but not the space. It was a space with not that much alternative culture at the time,” he says.

Breeze eventually ventured into television work and film production, even throwing in some acting into the mix. His first short film, Biko’s Children earned him a bunch of international awards. In recent years, visual art has become his main thing and he’s participated in street art projects in many countries. But Breeze calls himself a multimedia artist, using the approach that works best for whatever he wants to do.

His work is powerful, yet whimsical (man, I'm such a fan). But how would he describe his style? “I’m still building my style. But it’s based on fantasy and realism, a projection of where we are and would like to be in terms of humanity and blackness. For me art is a lot of things and part of that is questioning things and bringing them to other people's attention. But it’s also about providing hope, faith and a chance to dream.”

He’s never been keen on galleries. The streets and walls are his exhibition spaces, making his art – and messages – accessible to all. And now new ones are waiting to get Breeze-d.

Go show your support at the fundraiser – R100 gets you in. Food and drinks will be on sale. Follow Breeze on Facebook to check out his journey or to get involved.

Thank you so much to Derek Smith and Breeze for the images (all images credited to them). How cool is that profile shot by Derek?

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Posted by Gail Wilson on
Awesome article - love his work and so sorry I'm missing his fundraiser.
Posted by Nadine on
Love the art work. So different than the usual stuff we get to see around here - more of an international flair and standard. Great work. Where can we see some of this?
Posted by Kim on
Love this article. Love this work. Awesome!
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