Subways sport coat of many colours

2019-10-15 06:01
Observatory residents lend a hand during a community arts project held at Station Road subway in September.

Observatory residents lend a hand during a community arts project held at Station Road subway in September.

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Once covered in unsightly graffiti, the Station Road subway in Observatory now boasts a rainbow of colours.

Observatory residents teamed up with the Observatory Improvement District (OBSID) and acclaimed artist Tanya Bonello to transform the subway tunnel into a friendly and accessible space over two consecutive weekends in September.

“This is the second completed community arts project. The first one was held at Trill Road Station subway on 24 and 25 May. The community took ownership of this space and four months later it is still graffiti-free” says Amanda Kirk, chief executive officer of OBSID.

Prior to the makeovers, graffiti artworks and tags were removed from the subway walls, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Straatwerk – a non-profit organisation – and its “Projekt OPHelp (Project Operation Help)”. OBSID continues to fund its work in the public spaces of Observatory.

Bonello, a mixed media abstract artist who works primarily with gypsum, oil paint and found objects, is the driving force behind the subway projects.

She lives in Observatory and uses the subway tunnels to cross from the east to the west side, daily. In May, she had the idea to turn the formerly dark and somewhat depressing subways at Observatory train station into bright and cheerful spaces.

Bonello believes all space is sacred and worthy of being celebrated. Pixels (single squares of colour which together form the whole of a digital image) were the inspiration behind the Trill Road design.

“It represents the digital age that we are living in, but, besides the symbolic meaning, the design is also very practical. Everyone can colour in a square,” she says.

The design of the Station Road subway’s makeover was drawn from rainbows and what they represent.

“A rainbow is comprised of seven different colours. Each of these colours is vibrant and beautiful. It demonstrates how beautiful diversity can be.”

She explains how it also symbolises peace, serenity and hope, and how it too can be broken down into single blocks of colour which are easy to paint.

“We wanted to make the arts project as accessible as possible. Residents passing through could just pick up a brush, paint a square or two and then move on, or they could spend three hours helping out – it was up to them,” says Bonello.

Both projects enjoyed the support of the community. About 30 residents pitched in at the Station Road subway arts project.

“There was lots of singing, talking and children running around. And every single person passing through expressed their joy and gratitude,” says Bonello.

Kirk says the makeovers also had a positive effect on the people who work there. “The cleaning teams take extra care to keep the subways neat. Projects like these help to raise the level of pride they have in their work.”

OBSID funded the materials for the subway activation as part of its arts, sports, heritage and culture portfolio. Six people from its Streetscapes project – a work diversion programme for people living on the streets – also assisted during the Station Road makeover.

Kirk explains: “The programme gives homeless people a sense of belonging and something constructive to do for six hours a day. One of their assignments is street cleaning – and they are collecting up to 130 black bags of refuse per week – helping to keep the streets of Observatory cleaner. Those on the programme are supported by social auxiliary workers and social workers on an individual basis and also learn to work and function in groups.”

Kirk and Bonello say projects like these uplift the community.

“Thank you to OBSID for funding the project, and with gratitude and love to all the people who contributed their time and energy,” says Bonello.

Kirk also thanked George Kiewiets (Metrorail special project manager for the Western Cape region), who picked up a brush and joined in during the arts project.

Kiewiets says Prasa appreciates the support and great work done by Kirk and Bonello in beautifying the two subways.

“They have inspired other communities to do similar projects – building South Africa towards a great, self-sufficient nation, starting in our community, every day,” he says.

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