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Township youths build exquisite sculpture

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It doesn’t make all the violence stop but it reminds people that there is beauty in the world, says volunteer

Youth from Vrygrond build a sculpture titled \"Ubuntu\"
Youth from Vrygrond build a sculpture titled “Ubuntu”. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks
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“This represents a start to something greater,” says Vrygrond resident Anteeno Hendericks. He is one of over 40 youths from Vrygrond, Capricorn and Overcome Heights that helped build a wooden sculpture which now stands tall on the corner of Prince George Drive and Capricorn Boulevard near Muizenberg.

For four weeks, youth from Vrygrond and volunteers from San Francisco have been building a sculpture made out of recycled materials such as wooden pallets and steel. Titled “The Ship of Ubuntu” , the art work is about three metres high. It has a boat shape with the face of a man in front and a collection of houses on top.

According to a press statement, the hull of the boat pays homage to Vrygrond’s history of being a fishermen’s village, while the houses on top symbolise the unity of the community.

The sculpture took four weeks to complete and pays homage to the fisherman community that Vrygrond once was. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

For Hendericks, the sculpture represents a community that “can go anywhere.” “If we stand together as a community we can do anything,” he says.

Hendericks has been living in Vrygrond for five years and says that it has been a “struggle”. Vrygond has been hit hard by gang violence and housing problems. Gangsters try to recruit children, he says. Through the art work they are trying to show that there are better options than gangsterism in this world. “There is something better than selling yourself short or going to prison for somebody else,” he says.

The art project is a collaboration with Mexican street artist Libre Gutierrez and the Sozo Foundation. Gutierrez creates artwork across the globe sometimes involving migrants and incarcerated people. Last year he facilitated and painted a colourful mural on the Vrygrond Community Centre’s walls. The sculpture was also supported by the Vrygrond Community Development Forum.

Lygia Stebbing from San Francisco said that a lot of people have ideas of what Vrygrond is about: that “it’s full of gangsters and drugs”, but “really the community is beautiful”. Stebbing is one of the art work organisers from EDvance, a teachers preparation program at San Francisco State University in California.

“People should challenge themselves beyond the stereotypes,” says Stebbing. “People may look one way but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are people to be afraid of” or “that they dont care about their community.”

Since 2012, Stebbing and her students have been running programmes in Vrygrond which include bringing in pre-school teachers from the United States.

Keemo Mowers says that he is trying to change the perspective of Vrygrond with this sculpture. “Vrygrond is not all bad. Something nice can come out of Vrygrond”. He says that he has always been positive. Even though it can be difficult living here, Mowers says: “You learn. You get street wise.” Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

One of the exchange students is Noelle Owusu. Owusu teaches children in the Bay View area in San Francisco and says that communities there face similar struggles to those in Vrygrond, including gang violence, poverty and inequality. She describes it as a “forgotten community within a very affluent resource-filled area”.

Owusu says that when you see beauty in a neighbourhood like this, it doesn’t make all the violence stop or take the trauma away “but it gives people a reminder that there is beauty in the world”.

For Randall Daniels, this artwork is a way of him giving back to the community. He says that when you search for Vrygrond online all you see is “poor people”, but when you’re inside the community “you see rainbows”.

He says that this sculpture is the community coming together with one mindset. He says they are are showing people that “there is something good coming out of this place”.

Daniels, 26, has been staying in Vrygrond his entire life. He says that at one point he was doing all the “bad stuff”. But he started working with a different group of people. “The people I was involved with didn’t allow me to be the person that I was,” he says. “They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

In the future, Stebbing hopes to take youth from Vrygrond to the US for programmes in San Francisco.

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TOPICS:  Arts and culture

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Dear Editor

What an amazing creation this sculpture is - I can't wait to see it! Thank you to all those who contributed to making the hidden spirit of Vrygrond visible - freeing the talents hidden behind the heavy curtain of poverty and gangsterism, making us all aware of what is possible with just a little inspiration and encouragement.