Answering the call for a better world in a Cape Town studio
The Universe is one organism. Artists, more than most, are connected to its soul. When serious transformation is required creative people bypass the chattering intellect and tap into the means that can help us navigate our collective way out of a morass.
The African Arts Campus, hosted by the African Arts Institute, recently took a small group on a tour of a few studios. Linda Fekisi is an intern at The Journalist.
It’s a rainy Saturday morning and I’m taken around one of Cape Town’s quirky suburbs on a tour with a difference. There are less than 20 of us. We meet near the station in Observatory where the usual urban trendiness jostles for attention. But the studio at 45 Station Road in Observatory is different. It’s almost a holy space. It belongs to Mozambican artist Lizette Chirrime.
We spread out across the room. Two people grab the only available chairs. Some manage to make themselves comfortable on the carpet. The rest of us decide to stand, captivated by Chirrime’s artworks that are spread out on the floor and on the wall.
A giant portrait of bright textiles dominates the room. A riot of colour that sways you this way and that. What a beauty!
Chirrime is a visual artist with a wide range of talent. She designs bespoke skirts from maize meal sacks. Lowly items transformed into elegant sophistication. She makes portraits from multi coloured textiles. Sometimes she has done a few paintings.
The mini exhibition is cut short as the lecture begins. Chirrime takes us through the exterior process that brings her art pieces to life. Sadly it’s not given to most artists to take their audiences into the soul stuff. There are no words for that. After a brief demonstration, she shares how her journey as a visual artist began.
“In 2002 I had a calling, that I needed to do this and this is where it all began. I left my job as a secretary. It was not an easy journey, especially being in Mozambique, because there are many artists and there are a lot of creative people. Artists are labelled as stupid and lazy, so it makes it even harder to be an artist,” she says.
She adds that there is a lot of talent in Mozambique but there is no market and appreciation for talent. “There is absolutely no value. Artists even go through the daunting extent of waiting for tourists to come by the market place in order to sell their pieces,” she explains.
Chirrime discloses how even her own family and friends thought that she was crazy and that she needed to find a job.
“Fortunately I was very stubborn, and still am, and didn’t give in and kept following my dream.”
The guests chuckle as they connect with this side of her nature.
“I didn’t care much about what people said and I made my choice by choosing this path. I made my first exhibition in 2004 and everyone was quite surprised at how well I managed to use material for my art. However, I made little money and this upset me. I kept going regardless without enough money and with my struggles.” She sighs.
Suddenly there is a pause.
The only sound in the room is the soft music in the background.
Tears fall slowly.
Our faces are filled with concern.
“I’m fine,” she assures us with the tears still coming.
Later she tells me that she had flash backs of the struggles she faced during her journey. Always overwhelming for the true artist. Cape Town, she says, is like a place to breathe for her. Coming here from elsewhere myself I feel an empathy.
Composed, Lizette continues her lecture and captivates our attention once again.
“I continued to work hard and managed to find a place where I can breathe.”
She chose South Africa in 2005, while in search of places to display her art, and has been here since then. Chirrime describes her work as a basic expression of her feelings. She talks about her love for nature with an intense passion. For the artist nature provides avenues of connection to the source of all art.
“The earth is like a garden which we have been given and we need to take care of it. I have always been conscious about nature and the environment. I care deeply about the beauty of nature and that is where inspiration from my work lies,” she said.
Despite having given various lectures during exhibitions throughout her career, Lizette was giving a lecture for the first time in her own studio.
“The comprehension and warmth of people were the most fascinating aspects of the lecture. I was happy to talk and to be heard,” she says.
Lola Young, a participant of the African Arts Festival visiting Cape Town from London, comments on the universal struggles of the artist.
“This tension is present for everyone in the creative industry. On the one hand you do your art thinking that you need to eat and provide for your family.
“In the context here, the tension lies between making work for tourists and expressing yourself. You know you make quick paintings for tourists and then they come and buy them. Soon you make a couple more, then ten more and then before you know it, that’s all you’re doing. Your creative and artistic vision is kind of compromised.”
Young explains that this tension is particularly present with artists who are working for big corporations.
“They actually might say to you we don’t like that bit. Paint this bit out. This is similar to the artist which we saw at the District Six. A corporate that bought a painting from him told him to paint out the pipe because they did not want to promote smoking. He said that he took time to think about it, that he could make a comfortable living from producing for tourists but it was destroying his artistic soul and he ended up leaving,” she says.
Lola Young is enthusiastic about this rare experience for her as a visitor.
“Normally when you’re on holiday you just go where the guide tells you to go. You don’t get to speak to the people behind the artworks and that dialogue stood out for me,” she says.
“I do my work because of expression. I have a market here in Cape Town, I am able to sell and make a living.”
The rest of the visit includes more displays of her artwork and some of the fashion pieces.
Then a surprise from this multi talented woman.
Lizette Chirrime has tapped her culinary creative skills.
We are treated to traditional Mozambican dishes she has prepared.
I feel wonderful as we leave. An artist feeding our souls and lifting us up. We neglect them at our peril.
Other artists who featured in the studio visits are Zemba Luzamba and Jedaja Ikoli who are both from the Democratic Republic of Congo.