Officials mistake artist’s Sea Point installation for ‘graffiti’

2016-11-18 11:49
One of the lines in Monique Pelser's work that was removed by officials who had mistaken her art for graffiti. (Supplied)

One of the lines in Monique Pelser's work that was removed by officials who had mistaken her art for graffiti. (Supplied)

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Cape Town – Artist Monique Pelser was initially left scratching her head after her hard-won temporary installation was removed from the popular Sea Point Promenade only a day in.

Passionate about getting art “out of the gallery and into public spaces”, she made sure to first get approval from Cape Town officials.

After a five-month application process for a public art permit, and using her own funds, she finally set up pictures of clouds and poems in chalk along the concrete seawall last Friday.

By Saturday, it was gone.

Thankfully, the mystery was solved this week when the city confirmed that officials had mistaken her art for graffiti.

Normally packed with joggers, dog walkers and families, the stretch along the ocean has hosted a number of art pieces.

At times, these were erected without permission and law enforcement was quick to take them down. In other cases, people chose to vandalise permitted pieces they did not approve of. 

A famous example was the defacing of the controversial Mandela-inspired Ray-Ban sunglasses sculpture by Michael Elion two years ago.

This energetic space formed the inspiration for Pelser’s installation.

Short stories

“I walked the promenade for a few months every day and started writing short stories,” she said.

She once followed a man walking ahead of her, who was looking into the rubbish bins for food.

The story that followed was: “Dressed in a gray hat and orange jacket Dignity walked along the promenade tracing the steps of people.  He opened up every green dustbin on his path for over a kilometre.  Eventually, Dignity found a half-eaten Happy Meal and he devoured it.”

Another of hers read: “Hope is 22 years old.  Sometimes Hope gets quite tired.”

Her metaphorical stories were intended to be open to interpretation and trigger a response.

When officers discovered past the piece, they neglected to check the particulars of the piece before removing it, admitted safety and security mayoral committee member JP Smith.

They were normally required to check via telephone whether the artist had a permit.

“The City is investigating how this was allowed to happen and we will address this with the officers in question. We apologise to the artist for our oversight in this,” he told News24 on Thursday.

Artist Monique Pelser setting up her work on the Promenade. (Supplied)


His tourism, events and economic development counterpart Eddie Andrews also apologised for the inconvenience. He said law enforcement was usually very good with checking.

He also assured Pelser that the city was fully supportive of public art and they would improve their internal processes.

Applying for a permit required getting signed permission from all affected property owners. One of the requirements was a digital mock-up and graphic representation of the artwork at the site. The application then had to get feedback and comment from the sub council, different departments and community-based organisations.

Pelser, who has a permit until 31 December, planned to put up the installation again.

Having taken on Smith’s legacy of the opportunity to install public art at the promenade in 2011, former Atlantic Seaboard councillor Beverly Schafer believed the space was microcosm of society.

Schafer, now a member of the provincial legislature, said the promenade represented tolerance and allowing freedom of expression.

“Those spaces that we fought for for years, to actually allow some public art on the promenade, should be carefully guarded and it is a privilege,” she said.

“We have had to break down barriers so carefully.”

Read more on:    city of cape town  |  cape town  |  art

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