African Taxi Art: Bringing Art to the Streets

Public art is not an art ‘form.’ It can be monumental, towering fifty metres high, or tiny, calling attention to the paving beneath your feet. It can take any shape; cast, etched, built, pre-fabricated or painted. What distinguishes public art is its unique association between how it is made, where it is, and what it means, signifying a working practice of site specificity, community involvement and collaboration.

TAXI ART Marang a Letsatsi
 
LEFT TO RIGHT: Jerry Obakeng Gaegane, 09, from the series ‘Marang a Letsatsi’. Taxi wrapped with artwork at the launch at Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown, Johannesburg. Photos by Sipho Gongxeka.
 
In this case, even more significant is where it goes. Employing taxi wraps as a method of display literally and figuratively drives engagement with local art, realising the most utilised form of public transport as a platform to bring artwork into the public sphere. In a conversation with ARTsouthAFRICA for the ‘Interview Issue’ (13.1), Mike van Graan, African Arts Institute Director and playwright, spoke to us about art audiences, “Everything you want should be in the public domain. It’s not about people coming to an exhibition or going to a theatre; art must be where people are.”
 
In Johannesburg, as part of the Joburg Photo Umbrella (JPU), a public, photography-specific festival initiated by the Market Photo Workshop, a number of taxis were wrapped with the work of photographer, Jerry Gaegane. His series, Marang a Letsatsi, documents the labour and living conditions of informal miners in the West Rand and around Johannesburg.This ongoing mobile exhibition project is an exploration of alternative approaches to the display and presentation of photographic art works, providing an opportunity for a continual interaction and engagement between the community, the sites where the narrative originates and the body of work itself.
 
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By shrugging off the traditional, delimited space associated with the art world, public/mobile art creates the perfect platform for nurturing the development of emerging talent. Another mobile art initiative in South Africa, the SA Taxi Foundation Art Award, aims to drive the growth of visual arts in South Africa by taking the work of emerging artists to the streets, providing the broader community with access to the visual arts. Entrants produce an original work informed by the idea of ‘destination’, which is then interpreted for the design of wrap-around decal on a minibus taxi. In the end, sixty taxis will function as mobile galleries, taking art to the people (while also taking the people where they need to go).
 
Mobile art, in this way, represents an alternative from of communication in the art world; turning the quotidian arena of public transport into an art space, individualising mass experience, and deconstructing the privileged position usually associated with viewing art. An excellent example of this is KLA’ART’s (Kampala’s biennial contemporary art festival) ‘Boda Boda Project’. Boda bodas are Kampala’s iconic motorcycle taxis, which were transformed into unique artworks by twenty artists during October 2014. Each boda boda hosts an installation in or on it with the artist’s interpretation of the theme, ‘Unmapped’.
 
TAXI ART Boda Boda
LEFT TO RIGHT: Children examine an artwork by Ronex Ahimbisibwe. A sign directing people where to catch the art taxies. Images courtesy of KLA’ART.
 
As Africa becomes ever more connected through the spread of information via digital means, it’s fascinating to see how access to art continues to improve. These mobile art projects are excellent examples of how a young, emerging art market is progressively flourishing, stepping away from the ‘white cube’ approach to the display and presentation of work and onto the streets.