Creating cars from cans, art from life

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Some people may refer to their cars as 'a piece of junk', but four Grahamstown residents literally can say that their car is made entirely of rubbish.

Over the past two months Mfundo Koliti, Nceba Wakashe, Andile Booi and Xolani Solani have been crafting a car from discarded materials. The vehicle represents the collaborative effort of these locals and local arts-based NGO, the Arkwork Collective, that first debuted two years ago at the National Arts Festival.

The initiative uses performance art as a tool for helping local underprivileged young adults explore creative possibilities for adaptation and building personal resilience. This year Arkwork Collective's drama piece at the festival will unfold against the backdrop of the larger-than-life-size car, made from plastic, cans, metal and other waste items that the group of young men collect from rubbish dumps and around town.

The car holds particular significance for its creators who sustained themselves by washing cars on the streets for ten years before the municipality recently decided to crack-down on these informal enterprises in Grahamstown’s CBD.

When car owners were threatened with R200 fines, the informal car washers had to find ways to adapt. “We felt wronged because some people don’t have something to eat, no houses,” explained Koliti, justifying why he and his fellow car-washers do this work.

“Some people come [to High Street] at 7.30 [to wash cars] because they don’t like to beg,” he said, and explained that without car-washing, many people will resort to other means of survival like stealing or begging. Arkwork recognises that for all its challenges, life spent hustling on the streets inspires this kind of self-reflexivity – survival being, perhaps, the most fundamental of creative human responses.

And this is precisely what the NGO hopes to tap into with their projects. “Essentially, you use your imagination to try and make something out of what’s considered nothing,” said Arkwork’s creative strategist, Injairu Kulundu, about the ethos driving the collective.

Though the project is far from completion, what has been achieved so far is significant. “The guys have taken ownership of the project, they have conceived and executed,” said Mbaza Klaas, artistic director of the project.

Discussing the overarching significance of such work, Klaas said, “As much as they are building the car from discarded materials, they are also learning life skills, problem solving skills which can be stretched all over.” The next phase of the project is developing a drama to go with the car.

Auditions will be held to select the actors, who will then workshop to bring the drama to life. The Arkwork Collective hopes to continue facilitating the development of young adults all the while, building their capacity and self-esteem.

But the collective also hopes to integrate these marginal stories into the broader community, transcending socio-economic barriers and tapping into larger metaphors. This is a key aspect of the artist’s involvement, said Klaas. “They want to tell everyday stories about their work – sometimes they feel like they’re treated like rubbish.”

Check the story out in Grahamstown's local newspaper, Grocott's Mail: