Each of the recycled bottles which forms part of the iThemba Tower in Troyeville, Johannesburg contains a coloured light and a message of hope contributed by members of the community. (Image: iThemba Tower Tumblr blog )
By Lindiwe Sibanyoni
Officially opened in July 2016, the iThemba Tower is a community art project made with over 7 000 recycled plastic drinks bottles decorating a decommissioned 20m high cellular tower.
The tower is situated in the garden of the Spaza Art Gallery in Troyeville, Johannesburg. The repurposed tower has become a point of pride for people living and working in the area.
The project is the brainchild of renowned local street artist r1, conceived as a way to collaborate with the community in creating distinctive urban art. The artist specialises in taking lifeless urban landscapes and adding colourful, eye-catching African flourishes using various mediums.
Speaking to Graffiti South Africa, r1 says Johannesburg is his canvas, and its people his collaborators. "Every city has its beauty but Johannesburg [has] a special kind. There is a sense of freedom in the inner city that I don’t experience anywhere else. It is quite unique. People are open for engagement and I get fascinating opinions from very diverse backgrounds. [It’s] so rich culturally but still somehow a hidden treasure.
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The iThemba Tower's plastic bottles – bought from the city's informal waste collectors – each contain a light and a written message by members of the community, including learners from local schools. At night the tower lights up with a multitude of colours.
Taking the isiZulu word for hope, 'ithemba', the messages inside each bottle represent the dreams of each contributor. Speaking to blogger Heather Mason of 2Summers.net, r1 describes the artwork as a "symbolic communication tower around which a diversity of people can share their collective hopes".
More important, the installation is also an opportunity to draw attention to the importance of recycling and the informal collectors who recycle the city's waste as a means to survive.
While the tower itself is the main attraction, it forms part of an online multimedia project incorporating video, crowdsourcing and blog posts, which all highlight the installation's journey from idea to reality. It also tells the stories of the community contributors to the project, including the waste collectors.
"Even though my work is to be seen out in the street, it is also important to cater for those that spend most of their time in front of a screen," r1 says, adding that "good documentation helps re-adapting the work to the viewer’s means and expectations. The final work is not only the end product, but also the entire narrative towards its completion."
Through online crowdsourcing and visitor contributions, the project has raised over R40 000 for improving the livelihood of informal waste collectors and strengthening the community of Troyeville.
Read more about iThemba Tower, the Spaza Art Gallery and how city residents can contribute to this ongoing project.
Source: iThemba Tower Tumblr blog and SouthAfrica.info reporter
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