Liz at Lancaster’s Pavement library
More firsts for Craighall Park – guerilla art comes to the ‘burbs. The eye-catching red reading box on the pavement outside Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse caused quite a stir in the Craighall Park ‘hood when it was first installed, with lots of positive response. But now it is even more cheerful with its supporting post sporting a real live #FoodBabySoul #ScrapImpact or patchwork graffiti cover. So who or what is #FoodBabySoul and what are her fabric interventions about?
#FoodBabySoul or #FBS
#FoodBabySoul is the wife of an American diplomat who follows her husband in his postings around the world. Anybody who works or shops in ‘town’ or has joined any of the walking tours of Joburg Central, will have noticed the ubiquitous stickers on lampposts and walls advertising penis enlargement and abortion clinics, as well as access to loans. (The irony of a possible cause-and-effect connection between these 3, does not go entirely unnoticed!)
Around 2013 #FoodBabySoul started using red heart stickers to ‘bomb’ these ads as she wanted to reduce her 10 year-old daughter’s exposure to them. (Bombing is a term adopted from graffiti lingo.) This grew into a desire to redecorate the spaces where these ads had been, with something more positive and more colourful. So she started using scrap fabric. Now her work has expanded to plinths of sculptures, sculptures themselves, tree trunks, recyclers large bags, etc.
As with graffiti artists, #FoodBabySoul protects her identity and identifies her work with her tags #FoodBabySoul or #ScrapImpact; as well as with a little red heart in a speech bubble. And her work is very much about making passersby notice people who are on the margins and go largely unseen: people like the recyclers and the women who braai mielies; as well as objects like street furniture and sculptures. So there is a definite social activism underpinning her work.
One tradition related to her work, is yarnbombing which was an art practice started by a woman called Magda Sayeg in Houston Texas in 2005. Members of Knitta, as the movement was known, began to knit wraps to cover public street furniture – lampposts, parking meters, telephone poles and signage. Also known as yarnstorming, it not only brought the feminine and domestic craft of knitting and crocheting into the masculine urban landscape, but it also added colour and cheek to an otherwise grey cityscape. Plus it made people see things which they had not previously noticed. Some of the most famous and ambitious #yarnbombs were Magda Sayeg’s yarnbombed buses.
If knitted buses are yarnbombed, are beaded Casspirs beadbombed?
Like the American yarnbombers who overturned the gendered bias of public art, the colourful handmade beadwork (by men and women) transforms the Casspir in Afrika 47 from a hated symbol of domination and violence during the Apartheid regime into an aesthetically joyous and technically breathtaking artwork using indigenous skills.
Largest South African yarnbombing
The largest yarnbombing in South Africa took place on 1st August 2014, on the steps of the Voortrkekker Monument, a space which was transformed by 28,000 knitted and crocheted squares (making up 627 blankets, later given to charity). I am unclear as to whether this event was drained of the ideological or political critique of Knitta, or #FoodBabySoul’s interventions. It seems rather to have been framed as an event culminating in the Yarn Indaba aimed at promoting South African creativity in the skills of crochet, knitting and weaving. Was the Voortrekker Monument chosen as a site of tradition where women’s domestic virtues and talents were celebrated? Or was there a subversive underpinning: to re-frame and recast the connotations of the uber-masculinity encoded in the massive fascist architecture of the Voortrekker Monument? Further research is needed to come to some kind of conclusion. Any ideas anybody?
#FoodBabySoul and the Newtown Heads
In 2001 Americo Guambe made some 500 heads for stone plinths in the Newtown precinct.
Over time some got damaged, a few were vandalized and some suffered the effects of the elements. FoodBabySoul’s interventions, wrapping many of the plinths of the Newtown heads and even adorning the sculptures themselves, drew attention to the sorry state of the Newtown heads. As part of the 2018 Newtown Now! Festival, Guambe, funded by the Johannesburg Development Agency and the City of Joburg, restored and replaced some 100 damaged or lost heads.
#FoodBabySoul’s interventions spread beyond Jozi
Under the heading South African-inspired fabric art appears around Anchorage, an article appeared in 2016 in the Anchorage news. On a trip back to the US in 2016, #FoodBabySoul fabric-bombed trees along West Northern Lights Boulevard in Turnagain. But what I particularly LOVED was this one:
Challenges of the reading boxes
Shortly after installation our reading box started to show water damage. So Derek Smith of Reading Matters had said he would replace the box with one made from waterproof materials. Apparently the reading box in Newtown survived only a few weeks before being completely vandalized and a second in a Brixton park is going to have to be locked at night. We have had our little hiccups, and there are times when the outflow of books far exceeds the input. But then it all seems to balance out and generally has worked very well. So because #FoodBabySoul’s wrapper for the Newtown box was now going spare, we were the lucky recipients of this fabulous addition to our suburban street furniture.
Thank you Derek Smith, Reading Matters and of course #FoodBabySoul for your joyous addition to our little red box. We love it!