“…it was very impressive to see how people in SA are able to “hustle” to make projects happen with very little or no public investment.“
Rashiq Fataar speaks with Dele Adeyemo, creative director of Pidgin Perfect about The Power of ZA exhibition and why architecture and city making were on the agenda.
Meet Dele Adeyemo, a creative director working in Glasgow who presented the exhibition The Power of ZA which documented the exploration into the power of creativity to bridge divides and transform culture in South Africa. The project was a collaboration with researcher Natalia Palombo and with the support of Creative Scotland, The British Council’s Connect ZA as well as World Design Capital Cape Town 2014. All the content can still be found at the exhibition website: www.ThePowerofZA.com .
Rashiq Fataar : Why was it important to include an architecture/citymaking lens in a project of this nature? We are particular passionate about the multi-disciplinary approach to thinking about city making, including the use of media/film.
Dele Adeyemo: For far too long architecture and city making have been the reserve of architects, planners, developers and politicians. But what are the elements that make great places? People, culture, creativity. The collective activity of artists, musicians, storytellers, and designers, by the cumulative effect of their actions generate a grassroots civic culture that is doing more for City Making than any Masterplan could. By broadening the question of City Making to encompass a multidisciplinary approach we magnify the number of contributors and ideas, increasing the level of engagement by capturing the public’s imagination and nurturing a sense of empowerment to make change. A problem in a shortage of adequate housing, or lack of civic green space, or disconnect between the centre and its outlying towns affects everyone, there may not be simple solutions for the complex of issues but they can be told more powerfully and deeper understood through a film or an exhibition. Through this we take what was an elite pursuit and open it up to the public.
RF: What would you say that you know now, or are more aware of about architecture and city making both in South Africa and Scotland?
DA: Visiting South Africa in its 20th year of democracy was an amazing privilege. To experience the excitement, energy and creative expression in what is effectively a very young country, only twenty years old, was extremely powerful. Despite the challenges of the legacy of the past there is a palpable sense of enthusiasm and optimism that comes with freedom and the dawn of a new nation. In Scotland last year we had a referendum on whether we wanted to become an independent country from the United Kingdom which was narrowly lost. Nevertheless there was a huge grassroots movement for independence which was led not by politicians but by the public and arts and creative groups. The great realisation that my experiences in South Africa and also hinted at in Scotland was that creativity and culture have to be in the vanguard of building a new nation more than charismatic politicians.
RF: What were some of the most inspiring aspects of this project?
DA: I was completely overwhelmed by how friendly, welcoming and beautiful South African people are and how interested they were to participate in our workshops and discussions. The proactive can do attitude of people is really infectious too, in Scotland there is significant public funding for arts and cultural projects, whilst it’s not enough to sustain the creative industries it provides an important catalyst, so it was very impressive to see how people in SA are able to “hustle” to make projects happen with very little or no public investment.
RF: How does the content and work you have done reflect the differences and similarities between Cape Town and Johannesburg?
DA: The content reflected in our research in Johannesburg and Cape Town appeared to highlight a difference that I sensed between both cities, which may or may not be accurate. Johannesburg with its close relationship with Soweto and melting pot for the African diaspora appeared to be home to a larger grassroots dynamic creative culture.The multiplicity of creative practices was particularly evident in our discussion event Design Thinking in Interdisciplinary Practice held at Ithuba Arts Fund.
The practitioners presenting were Soweto-based Photographer Musa N Nxumalo, Actor and Dancer Mbuso Kgarebe and Designer/Curator Kelo Kubu, Convenor of TEDxSoweto and Director of Gamatong Design Enterprise, who each spoke passionately about their work giving us a snapshot into an emergent self determinations creative scene. In Cape Town we also got a sense of a grassroots creative movement particularly in the Performing Arts through talking to artists like Khanyisile Mbongwa and the break dancing rap artist Duane Lawrence amongst other talents.
But Cape Town seemed to have a greater level of institutional influence in the creative scene which to an extent appears to place emphasis on a different nature of creative practice from Johannesburg, one which is has greater links to academia, finance and established industries. We, for example, learned of how the Woodstock Exchange provided an important hub for the city’s design studios that appeared to serve an affluent market.
We also had a great conversation with Tau Tavengwa, editor of City Scapes Magazine, a product of the African Centre for Cities at UCT, a great biannual publication compiling an understanding of the rapidly changing nature of cities across the continent. And the events that we ran in collaboration with Future Cape Town as part of World Design Capital were kindly hosted by the SAE Institute film school.
RF: I’m interested in the notion of new narratives, and new stories, which often don’t make the mainstream media? How has the process and journey you have beeb on supported this?
DA: Typically in history those who set the narrative have been the dominant power in society, framing and stereotyping people to suit their selfish goals. The project was originally inspired by few South African films that were screened by our project collaborator Natalia Palombo as part of the the Africa in Motion Film Festival in Glasgow that have gathered momentum and cult following. What we learned was that there is a growing audience for authentic stories….
- Photos courtesy of Beth Chalmers all the rest are copyright of Pidgin Perfect.