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5 MIN WITH SIPHIWE NGWENYA

In Culture Crunch (pg. 41) of our November #TheGreatEscape issue, we give you a snippet of the Maboneng Township Arts Experience –  a public art festival held in Johannesburg. Here we get to know more about the man behind the movement

Tell us who you are and what you do?

My name is Siphiwe Ngwenya and I come from the Alexandra township. Although I have a keen interest in finance, maths and science, I am also a visual artist who explores the different ways in which art can be shown in different communities.

Did you always see art as your end goal?

I was a rap artist in the group Skwatta Kamp and then pivoted my career in another direction because I wanted to explore my art.

Have you always had an interest in art?

I wanted to invent flying shoes. I saw people on hover boards in films so when I was walking in primary school, I could picture myself flying through Diepkloof with my shoes. I loved the innovation and creativity and art was the closest thing I had access to.

What inspired this initiative? 

The Maboneng Township Arts Experience started in 2001. I wanted to exhibit art of mine in a gallery in Rosebank but they told me the waiting list was three years long. I was upset that I had to wait this amount of time so I called my friend (now producer) Tebogo Rabulani and said, ‘We’re going to exhibit this stuff here on the street’. He said yes immediately. I asked my mom to call all the influential people she knew and I called the people who I knew and it ended up being great.

Explain how the process began.

We were actually showing art outside on the street first but then the weather came into play and people let us showcase art in their houses. That started a whole new world. All we had to do was find people who were willing.

Even my aunt’s house is an art gallery now.  We are now looking at a business model where any person can volunteer their home. The homeowner will then tell us how many artists they have in their community so it can become more self-developed.

Where has the project expanded to besides Gugulethu?

We have done incredible work in Newcastle in Kwa-Zulu Natal as well as Soweto and Orlando West in Gauteng. This initiative has such a good potential to increase tourism because it’s in the good faith of the community.

In terms of artists, how do you decide who gets chosen?

We have a list of artists that we know around South Africa so we choose from that list but there are artists all over the world who want to be involved as well. They’re tired of a ‘white space’ so we’ve given them an alternative space, bringing curiosity and an economy, and art to the people who need it most.

What other projects are you involved in?

Right now we’re doing the Cape Town International Dance Festival with the iKappa Dance Festival organisation. Performers will be from around the globe from China, the US, England, Spain and Mozambique. With the theme being Town & Township, the idea is to bring the two spaces together with shuttles traveling from the dance festival at the Artscape Theatre in town to the art experience in the Gugulethu township.

Bringing art straight into the community, the Maboneng Township Arts Experience takes place on the 28th of this month in Johannesburg and on the 29th in Gugulethu.

Visit maboneng.com for more information and tell us, would you love to attend?