Art is not necessarily something he set out to do – instead, it found him.
So says Garth Wareley, the artist who painted the mural of the late Struggle icon, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, in Longmarket Street, Cape Town.
Wareley, who grew up in Mount View, teamed up with fellow graffiti artist Marti Lund, from Rondebosch, on the work, which is between murals of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
He says it’s not the biggest mural he has done, but it is the most important, as it was an honour to paint “Ma Winnie”, as she is affectionately known.
“I normally do a mural for a group of people. Here I had to do it for a nation. The pressure was huge, and I realised the importance of the work. It meant a lot to me. I was raised predominantly by my mother, and it is obvious that we need to treasure, protect, and nurture our women. What my mother did for her children, Ma Winnie did for a nation.”
The graffiti bug bit him as a 16-year-old, while at Zonnebloem Nest High School. His grandmother lived in upper Warwick Road, and he often had to walk past the Searle Street park. “That park is like the holy grail of Cape Town graffiti – every artist from near and far has painted there. My high school was very hip hop-orientated. I was a member of the school representative council at the time, and we lobbied to have graffiti as an extramural. We identified a space on the school grounds. Our school was the only one where one could take up graffiti as an extramural. I ended up chilling with the guys and started painting.”
After school, Wareley studied graphic design, fine art and jewellery design. “I worked full time for five years, and after that I went on a wild adventure. I had opportunities to travel and worked in the film industry. Now I am part of a collective – Marti, Chris Auret, Skumbuzo Vabaza and I. We are four guys from different parts of the city and backgrounds.
“We’ve done crazy missions, among them having to drive all the way to Clarence in the Free State to paint murals there. People talk about integration, but we live it, and the vessel is graffiti.”
Their art studio in Observatory is called Huiskind.
The mural of Ms Madikizela-Mandela, he says, represents a sense of calm and determination.
“I don’t paint things 100% real. I paint according to style. An art lecturer told me that she was the most difficult person to paint, as she had so many different faces – and here I had to depict only one.”