The writing’s on the wall: exhibition celebrates urban art for positive change

A new mural of the late Nelson Mandela, will be painted directly onto the gallery wall by Kenyan artist Swift9. ART AND DESIGN
A new mural of the late Nelson Mandela, will be painted directly onto the gallery wall by Kenyan artist Swift9.

The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre is hosting an exhibition showcasing the work of three exceptionally talented Kenyan artists along with an internationally recognised Kenyan visual artist, in the world premiere of SANAA: A Better World Through Creativity exhibition.

Presented by UniSA’s Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, as part of the 2017 Adelaide Fringe Festival from February 6, it kicks off an exciting year of exhibitions at UniSA.

In March, the SAMSTAG 2017 program will be launched with the Adelaide Festival with two exciting exhibitions – The Ocean After Nature from March 3 – June 9, and Countercurrents from March 3 – April 14. See next month’s UniSA News for a preview of what’s on at SAMSTAG in 2017.

At the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, SANAA: A Better World Through Creativity exhibition is the brainchild of Victoria Lewis, an Adelaide-based documentary maker, and event promoter who is a graduate of UniSA’s Bachelor of Arts.

Adelaide-based documentary maker Victoria Lewis while filming a documentary in Africa.Adelaide-based documentary maker Victoria Lewis while filming a documentary in Africa.

It began when Lewis travelled to Africa to film a documentary, exploring the positive power of art throughout East African communities, and it was here that the idea of the exhibition and event platform began to grow.

“I wanted to learn more about the power of art in changing lives,” Lewis says. “My primary goal was to seek out and portray the positivity of Africa – I wanted to show people another side that is so often overlooked, due to perceptions portrayed by Western media.”

Inspired by a passion for helping others, volunteering and a love of exploring foreign cultures, in this case African music and art, Lewis channelled her energy into meeting visual artists, painters, graffiti artists, musicians and fashion designers, producing a 20-minute documentary, and most recently, the SANAA exhibition.

“Unlike artists in developed countries, these artists have less opportunity for formal training; instead, it’s an innate artistic ability that they draw upon to create amazing works of art,” Lewis says.

“I asked many of the artists I met on my travels where their inspiration comes from, and they generally say ‘it comes from within or from what they experience daily.

“This may be a place of pain, a place of discomfort, and most certainly the disadvantage they see around them.

“The artists talk so passionately about their art, about change, or about the future. And it’s through their work that they are able to visually express this.”

Known for pushing boundaries, the artists involved in SANAA produce art that is not only visually inspiring, but also simultaneously powerful, conveying messages of peace, democracy and cultural diversity.

The artists are strong role models and leaders in their community, illustrating the power of art in changing lives. Their creations seek to empower audiences, create awareness, and champion advocacy for social change.

African Woman by Bankslave.African Woman by Bankslave.

For Bankslave, one of the visiting Kenyan artists, his work has provided a voice and an outlet for expression to communities that are affected by the significant political, cultural and social unrest currently experienced in Kenya and Africa more broadly.

Wise Two explains “Art is very powerful as it’s a form of therapy. It doesn’t have to be done for political gain or monetary funds. It can be just about expression and that’s very therapeutic”, he said.

For these four street artists visiting South Australia, graffiti is their way of life. Their art is a visual display of their feelings and emotions that aim to challenge perceptions and confront the issues that are being faced by their community and society.

The work of visual artist Onyis Martin, recently awarded runner up in the Barclay’s L’atelier – South Africa’s most prestigious art prize, reflects current issues not only affecting Africa, but the world as a whole. Delving into global concerns such as human trafficking, migration, political and institutional corruption and repressive environment, he continues to gain international accolades.

The SANAA exhibition provides the opportunity for their art to reach a broader audience, and to celebrate the positive, expressive aspects of graffiti.

“‘Sanaa’ in Swahili means ‘work of beauty’ and the works that form our exhibition are truly that,” Lewis says.

"It will be the first time for two of the artists to leave the shores of Africa, and providing this opportunity to such artists, is incredibly exciting."

A keystone of the exhibition will be a new mural of the late Nelson Mandela, painted directly onto the gallery wall by Kenyan artist Swift9. Mandela, who was the International Patron of UniSA’s prestigious Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, epitomises much of the emotion, sentiment and strength that these four Kenyan artists are aiming to present through their work.

The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre Executive Director Jacinta Thompson, says the exhibition will be a pertinent fit with the Centre’s themes of Strengthening our Democracy – Valuing our Diversity – Building our future, offering a platform for these dynamic artists to showcase their message through art.

“The exhibition offers a terrific opportunity to celebrate and support our communities, not only here in South Australia but nationally,” Thompson says.

In conjunction with the SANAA exhibition, the artists will also transform Eliza Street in the Adelaide CBD with spectacular mural art, to be launched with an African music, art, dance and cultural festival, involving South Australian migrant communities from Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana. The festival will be hosted on Saturday 25 February from 3pm – 11pm.

The exhibition runs from Monday 6 February – Wednesday 29 March at the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, Hawke Building level 3, UniSA City West campus, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide. The gallery is open Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm (Thursdays until 7pm). On Wednesday 22 February there will be an opportunity to hear from the artists at an Artist Talk Session in the gallery from 4.30pm.

For more information on the SANAA exhibition, see the website and to explore other upcoming exhibitions during the year, visit the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery website.