Maciek Dubla, Plascon Public Relations Manager
When people come across any form of street art, most put it down to graffiti or vandalism as opposed to a form of expression and story telling. I know I did, until I was asked to interview the Wooster Collective a few years ago. The Wooster Collective was founded by Marc and Sara Schiller in 2001, who document and showcase street art. It celebrates ephemeral art placed on streets in cities from around the world. Suddenly street art took on a whole new meaning, and having attended the I ART JOBURG exhibition launch in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg last week, sponsored by adidas Originals, I was once again reminded of the incredibly important role this form of expression plays within cities – thanks to street art photography icon, Martha Cooper.
A month ago, three international artists (Remed, Roa and Steve “Epso” Powers) and two local artists (Falko and Cameron Platter) were given the opportunity to take part in the I ART JOBURG project, a spin off from I ART WOODSTOCK and I ART SOWETO, which took place last year. The artists were given wall space (up to six metres of it) in the Maboneng Precinct to create their own brand of street art as a means to beautify and uplift the area. With paint supplied by Plascon, the artworks created have given a new dimension as well as a new sense of excitement to this up-and-coming suburb in Johannesburg.
But it was photographer (or ethnographer) Martha Cooper that truly stole the show, not only with her array of photographs from the I ART JOBURG project, but with an exhibition of photographs that she had taken throughout her career documenting street life and street art. The insight, raw atmosphere and emotions her photographs portrayed, and continue to portray, had those attending enthralled; if Cooper had been selling her artworks, the walls would have been bare before the night was through.
While at the exhibition, I had the chance to meet Cooper. To be honest, you would never think her as a photographer of inner-city street life, but just from talking to her you’re able to glean a more feisty side to her – at sixty-nine, this woman shows no signs of slowing down or stopping what she loves to do. In fact, many of the photographs in the exhibition were from past exhibitions she had done this year, showing that she continually finds inspiration and art wherever she goes.
Her journey through the New York graffiti scene began when, out photographing children in her New York City neighbourhood one day, she met a young boy named Edwin. Asking him to tell her more about the scene, Edwin told her he would show her. And he did. From explaining what graffiti and ‘street’ were, to how each artist was identified, Cooper met some of the most prolific street artists and began photographing them as they worked.
Her works on display at AREA 3 in the Maboneng Precinct were early images of her documenting street life and street art in the 1970’s and 1980’s in New York. The authenticity in Cooper’s images is perhaps the one characteristic that allows for that “in the moment” feeling, capturing each and everyone person who happens upon her work.
But enough words. Words aren’t what Cooper is about. What follows is a selection of photographs in the exhibition currently taking place at AREA 3 in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg. And whether it’s true or not that a picture can say a thousands words, these images capture moments in time within a culture, into which very few ever get any insight.
If you want to experience the exhibition, it will be on for the next two months at AREA3, 20 Kruger Street in the Maboneng Precinct before it moves onto its final destination at /A WORD OF ART in Cape Town. You can also experience the actual artist installations by going on a guided tour of the murals on Saturday 13 and 20 October. Be at AREA 3 by 15:00, take photos, tag #IARTJOBURG and the best 50 photos could be included in the I ART JOBURG exhibition.
- Keep up to date with I ART JOBURG by following them on twitter at @IARTJOBURG or visit www.i-art-joburg.com.