Pan African Market Township Art

Pan African Market Township Art

Township Art is a form of Urban Art, specifically it is the art of the township. Townships are suburbs which lie on the fringe of towns in South Africa. Soweto near Johannesburg being the most famous. In 1923 the Urban Areas Act formed segregated African residential areas around towns, providing the towns with a source of cheap labour and as only males were allowed to reside in the township, they were predominantly mass dormitories for a black male labour force. Movement was controlled by pass-books and pass-laws, a control of society that started in the 18th century, ensuring that a black person’s movement was restricted and harsh penalties were enforced to persons that broke this rule.

Mass social engineering was part of the Grand Apartheid scheme. However, all the rules and regulations could not diminish the realities of township life. Around the organized formal sectors, informal settlements and shack-type housing mushroomed, allowing a gap for women to exist in an environment structured for males. Parallel to and in competition with the formal trading stores, were informal “spazas” (shops), street vendors and illegal (bars) “shebeens”. These shebeens were the first audiences for generations of black musicians of great renown today.

Even though there was a harsh and sometimes violent inhumane life within the townships a diverse cultural richness was born. Township artists concentrate on these realities, e.g. Children playing in the streets, the shebeens, the street buskers, the over-crowded housing. Concentrating on the reality with a warm sense of humour and yet not covering up the “big picture”.

Mostly present in township art is the aerial view and unique perspective; with a great emphasis on roads and highways. Roads forming as such the veins of the township and the highways a seductive way out of a restrictive environment. A “canvas” that visually bombards the eye and welcomes the viewer to wander amongst the rich tapestry of township life.

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