Cale Waddacor is a South African artist who created Street Art Africa, a book and a project that wants to celebrate the masterpieces of African street art, to show the wonderful voices of these people who still want to commit themselves to make sure that the only imperative is “not to become numb”.
They say that Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin suggested that to watch a movie it was enough to get on a bus and look out the window: the life that flows by is the only spectacle in which we are not allowed to be distracted. The tramp with the bowler hat and the tailcoat had understood all too well how not to lose the colours of existence (“A day without laughter is a day wasted”), and he recommended that we always look at our steps, but never look down: today our eyes meet painted walls. Meaning? Graffiti. Act of vandalism? No. Art. In one of the most iridescent territories in the world.
Cale Waddacor is the brat of our story, an adult who continues to travel hand in hand with the child he once was and who does not give up, because he still believes in the poetry of looks and in the simplicity of gestures towards others, towards people maybe we don’t know so well but in which we recognize a heart similar to ours.
Cale Waddacor is a South African artist, specialised in the final mix, sound design and voice-over recording, a photographer and a documentarian, a true lover of urban exploration, travel, writing and editing. Skateboarding through Johannesburg, his home city, he began photographing street artworks to document the country’s rising street art scene and launched the website Graffiti South Africa in 2011, which was made into a book of the same title in 2014.
Today, he presents us with Street Art Africa, a book that collects the works of over 250 artists in 35 countries as well as eleven artist interviews, thus leading us to explore and learn every movement, scene, style, technique, street art’s distinct, regional visual cultures. Because also (and especially) in a continent so often ignored, there is room for magic. And then we learn to also look at the works of art on the walls, which today, thanks to Street Art Africa, teach us that they know not only how to divide, but also to build and protect. What? The talent of those souls who want to make the world a better place.
AAAA: Tell us about who you are.
CW: “My name is Cale Waddacor, from South Africa, author of the book, Street Art Africa (Thames & Hudson, 2020). I am passionate about the visual arts – from film and photography to street art and graffiti. I have been documenting and researching African graffiti for more than a decade and want to share my window on this fast-growing art form with the world.”
AAAA: When and how has the idea of celebrating African street art by publishing a book started?
CW: “In 2011 I created a website to document South Africa’s rising street art movement, which led to a book called Graffiti South Africa being published in 2014. Ever since I started blogging about South Africa’s streets I had a fascination for what was happening in other country’s around the continent – not much existed at the time. I continued to delve into the subject and thought it would be a fascinating follow-up book, especially since African graffiti and street artists are extremely talented and deserve further opportunities worldwide. Around 2017 I began to work towards this new publication.”
AAAA: In your opinion, why was street art, when it was born in New York, not considered art but an act of vandalism? Do you think there is the same prejudice in Africa?
How is it considered now?
CW: “Street art and graffiti are intermingling cultures and both can be easily disputed due to their alternative nature and traits of rebelliousness. I think the public first saw it as a threat due to the misconception that graffiti generates crime and because some graffiti artists are close-minded. In time have we come to understand its significance as a new form of visual art and expression; it is a global culture and a wave of artistry that cannot be ignored. In Africa, it is slightly different from the international scenes – and not only because of unique social and economic standpoints. Street art in Africa is younger and the public is fascinated by the power of this art form and they are keener to engage with it. There are, however, varying reactions in different African countries, but most see it as a medium to uplift and beautify. There is generally a positive perception of the culture and artists also work with purpose; addressing issues, educating the public and enhancing communal spaces. The high cost of materials also plays a factor as many artists create for the benefit of everyone, and not only themselves.”
AAAA: How have the street artists responded to the book?
CW: “I worked with the artists throughout the entire process – collecting images, researching the histories and discovering all the cultural significance of each region. The artists are all very excited to see it come together because it is the first survey of the continent’s street art scenes. They are keen to learn about fellow African artists and to further elevate the culture. I am excited to witness the world’s reaction to their tremendous skill set, dedication and unique stamp on this modern craft.”
AAAA: The themes of street art can be many, often of social commentary: is there any work of art that has struck you for the message it wants to convey?
CW: “Most street art has a purpose, even if it is solely a pretty picture. There are many works that have spoken to me, and I am glad this sensation persists: this is what makes it such a powerful form of expression!”
AAAA: How was the idea of the monumental project Murais from Leba in Angola born?
CW: “Throughout the book, historical projects and events are highlighted, including the Murais da Leba project by Angola’s Serra da Leba mountain range. This project is significant because of the vast location and large-scale murals. Pieces of the wall erected along the winding road to help prevent rock slides were targeted by vandals and therefore the project was created to conceal these inscriptions and help the walls blend better into the natural environment.”
AAAA: Seed’s project Perception sends a message of hope: in your opinion how important is it, in the current global context, to give people something to believe in?
CW: “It’s really important to keep up the morale of the masses, especially if they are less privileged (such as the case of the Zaraeeb people and eL Seed’s Perception mural in Cairo). Street art can play a major influential role as it is a protagonist for conversation, hope and change.”
AAAA: As an artist, a musician, a photographer and a documentarian, what is it that strikes you more of what you look at? What is it that makes you stop and marvel wide-eyed?
CW: “I am very aware of my surroundings and when something makes me stop in my tracks, then I know it speaks to me in some weird and wonderful way. I really appreciate discovering new things and learning more about them.”
AAAA: What is the advice you would give to the younger generations?
CW: “Pursue your dreams. Work towards it every chance you get. Take more photos, write more notes, finish that drawing in your own style, listen to your inner self, engage with others, be kind, play your music loud, talk to strangers.”
AAAA: Tell us about your next project(s).
CW: “I will be working towards an African street art showcase and another edition of Street Art Cinemart, my graffiti films and publications event. I always have multiple projects on the go and ideas for the future.”
Street Art Africa celebrates diversity, culture, hope, sacrifice. Charlot has a mustache that indicates the vanity of man, the hat and the stick the dignity, and his boots the impediments that always hinder him: Charlie Chaplin, like this book, teaches us that man is solution and obstacle, beauty and indifference, and that you’re never too old to dream. Street Art Africa reminds us that it is always the time to look at the world around us because, despite the difficulties and social injustices, the lights of the city remain on. Lights that guide the look towards the beauty of life and people.
Giulia Celegon, student of Arts, Music and Entertainment Disciplines at the University of Padova, Italy. Aspiring writer and filmmaker, she spends her free time collecting DVDs and looking for an art exhibit to spend the afternoon. After watching Little Miss Sunshine, she has the incredible and crazy dream of being able to travel around Europe (and beyond) in a van, without worrying about petrol but only about having enough paper to write, landscapes and life.