CORE is a mixed-media, contemporary art exhibition featuring the imaginative works of Cape Town artists, Linsey Levendall, Anwar Davids, Leigh Cupido, Nardstar* and Rayaan Cassiem. Incredibly down-to-earth people, 4/5ths of the CORE family sit, waiting for their launch to begin. The calm before the storm is an understatement here, as, in just a few hours, the empty basement-style gallery will be packed to capacity with art enthusiasts, friends and photographers alike. one small seed sits down with them before the madness begins to discuss street art, social media and their upcoming exhibition.
A fascinatingly calm group of artists with their own distinctive styles, the artists have a grounded pride about them; this will be their first time exhibiting together. Dressed as effortlessly sophisticated as his work– in a crisp white shirt and black tie– Rayaan seems ready. Leigh next to him, lanky and tall with boyish charm shuffles impatiently in his seat beside Anwar, who projects the kind of wisdom that could only come from years of hard work. The most shy of the group, NardStar*, likes to let the work speak for her. Every artwork in the exhibition was done meticulously by each member of CORE, including the beautiful wooden frames they are cased in. A labour of love, each one of the works is for sale, however reluctant they are to let them go…
What are your various mediums and why did you decide to use them?
Rayaan: I’m a big fan of working in monotones, so black and white is my thing. I like the strength and the boldness of it, so I chose to work in black india ink. It’s the first time I’m using this medium so it was quite a learning curve for me! It has such an awesome variation of line quality going from very thin to very thick, so details weren’t a problem; it’s such a fluid medium. It’s waterproof too, so you can do colour washes over it without any trouble.
Leigh: I generally do graffiti, so I used spray paint and india ink too. I saw Rayaan using it, and I thought “well that’s rocking!” It looks great for the style that I was going for…
And what kind of style is that?
Dramatic! And Anwar? Are you using india ink too?
Anwar: I thought about using it too, I mean obviously it’s quite awesome, but I prefer to use a black fine liner. I’m happy with the outcome, because of the control it allows me to have. If you look at my pieces, you’ll see that there’s a lot of detail and using a pen just seemed better for me.
There’s a heavy debate concerning the difference between graffiti, street art and vandalism isn’t there?
Leigh: I’ve been doing graffiti for four years. Graffiti has had its time in museums, sure, but it’s for the people, that’s why it’s done outside… and I don’t agree with graffiti being done indoors in a gallery setting. Spray paint is just another medium, which is one that I’ve used here, but graffiti, real graffiti, should stay outside.
Rayaan: Exactly. I love the interaction with the community that comes with graffiti. While you’re painting, you meet people; you have kids running around watching, guys coming up to you asking questions, watching you work… It’s very interactive. You won’t get that indoors at all, working on your own… that’s why I love it.
Leigh: Street art has become a huge movement. People are using it as a way to communicate… to express how they feel in their hearts, and that’s mad! A lot of places are very poor at the moment, so they use street art to say how they feel. They can go out there and do it themselves, dream something up and just do it, which is very cool.
Anwar: Yeah, and a lot of the social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter let people stay connected and share their work with other artists. Instead of just being abut Cape Town and Jo’burg, we can stay in contact with the world! A lot of what you’re seeing here is influenced by that. Our influences come from everywhere, not just one particular set of people.
NardStar*: Exactly. The theme I followed with my work is the idea of staying in touch with people from around the world, online. There’s a portrait of me and my dad; he went to Jo’burg for two years and that’s how we stayed in contact. There’s another one of my friend Kaas, who moved to Oman. It’s deeper than just social networking.
It’s about coming together; that’s what we’re doing here.
Rayaan: Mixing the fine arts side with the street art side… You know, Street Art is supposed to have a message. You have mass media telling people lies every day, all the time, and street art is about dropping knowledge and letting people know about things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.
So did you all go to art school?
Leigh: We’re actually all graphic designers! Our aim was to go and learn how to make things and get involved, and we were so excited… but then when you get there, it’s not what you’d expect it to be. As a graphic designer you learn all about making powerful images but then when you get to the working world, it’s all about the client and there’s no expression in it. That’s why we have CORE. So we can still do what we do best, to express that frustration with having to hold ourselves back.
Rayaan: We’re all a little jaded by the industry unfortunately…
Work hard to play hard huh? Well in terms of hip hop culture, how much does that influence your work here? That’s where graffiti comes from, correct?
Anwar: Yeah, so much! I was so immersed in hip hop culture. I loved MCing and beatboxing; I used to perform with Black Noise and even got involved with Prophets of Da City as well so I was into it full time and I was trying to evolve as a human being back then too. With hip hop, it’s a positive movement that teaches knowledge of self.
It’s about trying to find out who you are and being able to do things for yourself.
Hip hop has brought me where I am today and I’m happy to be here. There’s always a message in the music which is what we’re all about– sending a message.
Leigh: …I was heavily into break dancing in high school, and I realized that the same people who love breakdancing, also like to draw! That’s how I got into graffiti. It just clicked.
Rayaan: Music totally influenced me. The rawness of hip hop was great and it just made sense for me to couple that with graffiti. Just listening to music felt right, and I even DJ’d at some point too. We’ve all been involved in the hip hop scene in some way or another.
So, of all of this… community, hip hop culture and music, what inspires you the most, and does Cape Town as a city influence your creativity at all?
Leigh: The people…definitely. This beautiful gift of a life that we have too.
Anwar: Waking up every morning thinking “today is going to be a good day,” definitely does.
Rayaan: Cape Town as a city… it’s such a symbiotic relationship really. That connectedness that we feel to this place is unbelievable. My peers inspire me the most as well. I feel so blessed to be associated with these guys! We feed off one another’s energy. As soon as one of us levels up, we try to top the next guy and so we all grow together as artists.
Leigh: We’re a family now! We didn’t know each other when we first started out. I met Rayaan at work!
Rayaan: It’s true! I went to get some things printed and I’d never touched a spray can in my life. There was a tag we were discussing, and he asked me if I was into graffiti. I told him I had a secret passion for it and I’d always wanted to try it out. After that, we painted a few walls and became solid friends after that.
So if you could paint on any surface, what would you choose?
Leigh: Giant buildings. And Bridges.
Rayaan: We’re quite inspired by the FAME street art festival in Italy. I would love to work there. See No Evil is also great for murals. It’s such a forward way of thinking, beautifying the city with street art. I don’t know why we aren’t doing something like that in Cape Town, since we have Design Capital of the World award for 2014.
Anwar: We’re really excited about tonight, not nervous at all. We put everything into this; especially those frames. We went from sawing the raw wood to sanding it, to putting the frames together…It was a long process. We spent so much time bonding while setting up, sourcing the venue, everything…
And lastly, are you guys ok with the fact that anonymity of street art is no longer there, especially because of social media?
Leigh: That’s what happens when you get online I guess, yeah we’re cool with it. It is considered a crime in some places but not as much as before. People aren’t afraid anymore. They’re ready to step up and say “yes, this is my piece.”
One thing I have noticed about Cape Town is that everyone seems to know each other, which means you end up seeing the same artists all the time, in the same circles. I know all these guys personally and it’s refreshing to see people doing something new, especially when it’s for themselves. – Guest
The CORE exhibition will be running from Septmenber 6th until month end, 2012 at The Museum Gallery, Upper Eastside Hotel, 31 Brickfield Road in Woodstock. Every Wednesday evening at 18h00 until September 26th, the artists will be hosting CORE Creative Nights, where participants will bring their own drawing materials and engage in the creative experience.
Interview: Shiba Melissa Mazaza & Silje Rolfsen
Photographer: Bernice Israel