It’s 2014 and Cape Town has become one of the world’s most coveted hubs of art, design, film and architecture. But with every success any city achieves, there comes perils and sometimes artists standing within the outskirts of the city bare the grunt.
Take graffiti art for example, everywhere you walk in Cape Town there’s gorgeous and gritty images that have contributed to the contrasting beauty of the city. We have celebrated artists like Faith47 and yet with Cape Town being declared the World Design Capital, there’s mounting pressure for the city to find and arrest graffiti artists.
We sat down with award winning filmmaker and director, Katey Lee Carson, who is about to launch her latest film, Painting Cape Town, a 20-minute documentary taking a look at graffiti culture in Cape Town from the perspective of graffiti writers. Carson was drawn into this elusive world of graphic street art, which has always been influenced by alternative street culture, hip hop music and dance.
“A friend of mine, Matthew Olckers wrote the book Painting Cape Town and after reading it I became fascinated with the graffiti that was around our city. I started seeing it all over and I realized that I knew nothing about it. When I tried to delve deeper into the movement I realized that there was little information about it, I could find out all about American or European writers but there was very little on our local writers,” says Carson.
She was curious about the history of this movement and why people would risk their lives to get their names on a train or a wall. “I finally came to terms with the fact that I would have to speak to the artists themselves in order to further understand the movement, I wanted to understand what drove them and where they came from and no blog or picture could give me this information,” says Carson.
Carson says Cape Town was a major draw card for the film, “Cape Town is a very cinematic location but more than that, the Cape Town graffiti scene is under serious pressure at the moment because of the new bylaws which is enabling the council to paint over any graffiti that is put up without a permit. This is a very controversial issue with the 2014 Design Capital this year and causes the main tension in the narrative of the documentary,” she says.
“I was very interested in the cities view on graffiti on the streets of Cape Town. Michelle de Wet, the head of the graffiti unit in Cape Town, was kind enough to allow us to interview her and in the documentary she goes on to explain why the council has these laws in place and how one can apply for a permit etc.”
Once the documentary was under-way, it was time to find the often faceless voices of graffiti in Cape Town and she admits that interviewing the artists/writers was a challenge. “I was lucky enough to have a contact in the scene who gave me access to all the writers, once the writers heard about the documentary some were very keen to come and share their stories, others needed a little more convincing,” she says.
“Once I got them in the interview chair and explained to them what this documentary was about they were more willing to speak honestly and openly about their opinions and personal experiences within the scene.”
But it was quite a lot of admin to keep the artists’ identities secret.