Art in Alex

Walking down a narrow street in Alex (Alexandra township), we turn into an alley. Then another one and another one. I’ve lost count. We’re passing washing lines, kids playing, people just enjoying the afternoon and a small, almost hidden spaza (“where you can get everything”). The houses constructed out of bricks and corrugated iron are packed closely together – sometimes so close that you can only see electricity lines when you look up. And then our tour guide, who is navigating the dusty, bumpy alleyways with killer heels (respect!), turns into a little entrance, stops and knocks on a door.

Our group is allowed into a small one-room house. The main purpose: to look at two art works by local Alex artists which are effectively hanging in the owner's bedroom. She switches off her television's sound and proudly stands back so that we can have a closer look. This lady (below) is one of the Alex residents who have agreed to let her house be used as a temporary viewing space this past weekend as part of the Maboneng Township Arts Experience.

This initiative, the brain-child of Siphiwe Ngwenya, has been turning homes in townships into galleries since 2000 (it shouldn’t be confused with the Maboneng district in the Johannesburg CBD though). It’s an annual exhibition which happened this past weekend in this township and also involved some mural painting, among other activities.

For me, the Arts Experience tour was one of the best ways to just be in Alex. I felt incredibly honoured to be welcomed into people’s homes to look at heartfelt art works, which mostly depicted township scenes. It also included a photo exhibition (focused on xenophobia) in front of a food shop, which I thought was a pretty great idea. But this isn’t really a tourist thing – it’s an exhibition for Alex artists to show their work and people living in the community to see it.

The Alex event may have ended but viewings are still possible. Just contact the Maboneng team (details here) to find out how it works. And if you’re in Cape Town, an exhibition will happen in Gugulethu on 26 and 27 October 2013. I think this one is going to be awesome – Maboneng has been chosen as an event of the World Design Capital 2014 - Cape Town initiative. There will also be an exhibition near Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal on 30 November and 1 December 2013. So go check it out!

This is Thomas Mashaba, one of the Alex artists with one his works - it was my favourite of the day!

* All the photos taken by Best-est Husband Robin

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