Mayor provides platform for up-and-coming artists

Litha Mayiya at work on the mayors portrait.

Up-and-coming artists had an opportunity to shine at the inaugural Mayor’s First Thursdays at Baron’s Bar and Restaurant on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town last week.

Emerging visual artists had exhibitions and musicians played at the event, which was attended by mayor Patricia de Lille, City council officials, celebrities and the public.

There was also a booth which provided visitors with information about a range of City services.

First Thursdays, started by Thursday Projects in 2012, is a free cultural experience where art galleries in the city centre stay open late on the first Thursday of every month.

At the event, Ms De Lille said she had initially been urged by her colleagues to attend one of the events, and then could not stay away. “I love First Thursdays – walking in the streets of the city and seeing the diversity and talent Cape Town has to offer.

“So I committed to providing a space for musicians and artists to display their work so that they can become recognised.”

For the majority of visual artists from previously disadvantaged areas, finding space to display their work proves to be difficult and they often struggle to establish networking and business opportunities.

Ms De Lille, in a statement, said the City was creating this space to help upcoming artists improve their careers.

One of the artists whose work was displayed at the event was Litha Mayiya, a 14-year-old boy from Gugulethu.

Litha, who is a Grade 8 pupil at ID Mkhize High School in Gugulethu, was busy painting a portrait
of Ms De Lille while being interviewed.

“I started painting when I was seven years old. I used to paint cartoons with my friends in the streets. I met Mpumelelo (Rakebe), who is also an artist, and she helped me grow my talent. She introduced me to the right people and organised for me to be here.”

Litha loves painting portraits and images in his everyday life, which was evident in his work displayed. “I am very proud of myself and very excited that my work is here in the city. One day, I want to study art and continue to grow my talent. My wish is to buy my family a house and a car.”

Ms Rakebe, whose work also formed part of the exhibition, has been an artist since 2008. She met Litha through Project Playground, a non-profit organisation which offers programmes such as arts and sports to youth in the townships who want to change their lives and stay off the streets.

The Observatory resident, who is an arts teacher at Project Playground, said Litha enrolled in the programme in 2013 and she recognised his drive and talent.

“He always told me he wanted to be like me. I saw his ambition and he was focused and serious about his art, so I mentored him and helped him. Now I manage his work, and I am still his teacher.”

Ms Rakebe said she feels empowered and inspired by Litha, and is honoured to have her work displayed next to his.

“At the same time I am also a bit envious. He is so young, and yet so professional. When I was young, I never got the opportunities he has now. He has inspired me to touch another child’s life the way I did his. We are grateful for this opportunity and this platform.”

The third display, which shows artists from Cape Town such as YoungstaCPT and Emile YX?, called Together Hate, was put together by Clint White from Heideveld.

“This piece is to change the perception of people on the other side of the mountain, the Cape Flats. When tourists come to Cape Town, they only get to see the beautiful side of it, but not the beauty that emerges from the Cape Flats.”

Mr White said he first caught the eye of the public last year when he walked 400km all over Cape Town to collect messages of support for Olympic gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk.

“Wayde heard of what I was doing and invited me to lunch with him in Johannesburg.”

Mr White said Ms De Lille had called him up and asked him to form part of the Mayor’s First Thursdays.

“I started my own organisation called 7 Steps Innovations Hub, to help the city’s youth empower themselves through creative measures. Next, we will aim to visit schools around the city to teach them about creativity and the arts. Together Hate formed part of the Open Design Festival 2017 earlier this year and has been travelling to school’s around Cape Town since.”

Musician Kerwin Baatjies said he was honoured to play at the Mayor’s First Thursdays event.

“This is a great platform, especially for someone like me who doesn’t know much about the industry. It was also an opportunity for me to perform for the mayor.”

Mr Baatjies is originally from Retreat but has since moved to Hermanus and Paarl over the years. He first performed at school talent shows.

“I studied mechanical engineering and I remember my lecturer said: ‘If you don’t want to be here, then don’t stay.’ Then it hit me – I wanted to sing.”

His single, Whela, had made it to the Top 10 on the radio charts, with a lot of advice and assistance from artist Chad Saaiman.

“I’m working on my EP which will be released next year. I’m so excited that my career is taking off.”

Ms De Lille said that every month as part of First Thursdays, she would be selecting artists from previously disadvantaged communities to form part of her programme.

“Here they will also be able to network and share ideas with other artists. This night is to create a space to share and see the talent we have in the Mother City.”

The night featured live performances by established artists Jimmy Nevis and Chad Saaiman, who opened the stage for some of Cape Town’s upcoming performers.

Ms De Lille called on all regular First Thursdays patrons and newcomers to visit the space and support the young artists.