Bottomup Arts & Activism

South Africa has a long history of combining art and activism, from wearing black sashes as a sign of mourning (mourning a corrupt apartheid regime) to Desmond Tutu’s purple robes, symbolic of the Purple Rain protest of 1989. It is Miriam Makeba’s “Aluta Continua” which reminds us of the struggle that continues, while Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Mannenberg” attempts to capture the soul of a community deeply shaped by Apartheid. Art, in all its forms, is a vehicle for speaking truth to power and for showing up the cracks in oppressive systems and structures. It is also a medium which allows us to express our deepest emotions, sadness, anger, grief and joy. It is little wonder then that so much of our contemporary social movements and their messages have also come to be represented in songs like “My mother was kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy, that’s why I’m a freedom fighter…” blended with the popular tune of “Nobody wanna see us together”. Art is power.

This week, Bottomup attempted to encourage learners to use their creativity as a tool for empowerment and resistance, and as a medium to make people aware of their struggles; the struggles of their community. Our learners had the opportunity to interact with local artists such as Doep & JK (Afrikaans Rap), Kurt Minnaar (Hip Hop Maths), Lunga , Reagan Allen (Comedy), Amy Pietersen (Hip Hop Dance), Salem & Humble (Spoken Word artists), Frieda van den Heever (Music & Drama) and Zach Stewart (Painting). Each artist was able to demonstrate their craft and talk about how they use their craft to tell stories, challenge ideas or create awareness concerning social issues.

The Arts & Activism days at both Lotus High and Fairmount High School were a success. They mark the start of an interesting journey which Bottomup will be taking with students. This dovetails with the work we have been doing in constructing action-reflection committees in schools that discuss the problem of high-school dropout and how it is related to broader social patterns and inequality. Students are becoming social-analysts and researchers, and now we are adding the arts as an instrument in their toolbox as young activists who have a deep concern for social justice and a genuine desire to re-write the stories of their neighbourhood.

One thing we have also learned this week is that there are so many young people with a yearning to be able to express themselves creatively through drawing, dance, singing or playing an instrument but are unable to do so because they have never had the opportunity of acquiring the languages of the arts. A by-product of post-1994 education on the Cape Flats is the stripping away of the arts and creative disciplines. While these subject areas were removed in order to attempt to produce a more equal education system (more equal than Apartheid, which saw Whites only schools receiving disproportionate benefit), it is also producing learners who must live with the pain and frustration of not being able to articulate themselves through the arts, and who have very little positive means of outlet for the trauma and violence produced by the tough lives they live on the Cape Flats.

We are really thankful to the schools for participating, to the artists who gave up their time to work together with us and to all of those who support the work of Bottomup in your own way.

The Arts & Activism event we hosted today is the beginning of what we hope will lead into a series of workshops that delve deeper into the art of creative resistance and the field of the arts itself. It is a pedagogy we believe in.

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Originally published at Bottomup.

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