Graffiti is an inherently dangerous expression of art for every one of its practitioners. But shit is jusâ€™ a lil realer for South African writers. â€œItâ€™s more grimy and raw than a lot of other scenes,â€ says Faith47. Sheâ€™s not establishing street cred â€“ the slums of Nairobi and Kibera are far scarier places than most, if not all, North American or European urban environments.
What’s more, “It’s not easy to rack paint,” she says, “it’s just not an option to go to jail here, so the hustle for paint is real.”
Faith47’s introduction to graf came from Wealz 130. â€œHe opened up the world of graffiti to me,â€ she says, â€œand it spiraled from there.â€ Wealz 130â€™s crew, YMB, Young Mobile Bombers, were integral to the young Cape Town graffiti scene, â€œwith white and colored writers meeting up despite their geographical and social differences.â€
For Faith47, graffiti isnâ€™t just art, itâ€™s an exploration of media, society, and the interaction between the two. â€œ[Graffiti] is taking back spaces, stigmas, thoughts, learned behaviour and recreating them to be your own.â€
Graff has also introduced her to a fascinating blend of people and places. â€œEvery wall is not just a photo,â€ she says. â€œItâ€™s a whole story in itself. You go to places you would not usually explore: alleyways, tracksides, ghettos, dirty roads, broken-down buildingsâ€¦â€
Her experiences have been as colorfuls as her pieces: â€œFinding an old lady in a tiny little room covered in black soot â€“ in the middle of nowhere â€“ with all her skin dirty from the soot â€“ the walls, mattress, everything. Pitch-black dirty,â€ says Faith. She has traveled halfway across the world on her own, painting in crazy spots with writers â€œyou feel youâ€™ve known forever, but youâ€™ve actually just met.”
In Langa, Faith was painting across a freeway, standing amongst human filth â€“ literally. â€œShit, people washing water, garbage, sheep skulls, razor blades, all the things of doom â€“ and having children play right next to you with bare feet!â€ she says.
Once, while painting in a ghetto, Faith was rolled up on by an outraged rich, white guy in a fancy car. “He had seen me painting from the freeway and wanted to get me arrested,” says Faith. While he called the police, the neighborhood residents were telling him to go away; they liked what she was doing. When the cops arrived, “the guy laid it on think â€“ he had photos of my work, and they must arrest me â€“ even that my car had no license,” she says. “When he left, the cops told me that I could carry on, and apologized for his behavior.”
“[South Africa] is a complex place with extreme contrasts,” says Faith47. “Ignorance, hardships, hustle, luxury, affluence, violence, strong creativity…” And Faith47 is proof that graf persists in all environments, no matter how strange, dangerous or unique.