Celebrating Langa through its artists

Founders of the township’s first art gallery have big plans for its future

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A statue of a woman by artist Angus Taylor greets visitors to Langa’s first art gallery, 16 on Leretholi. Photos: Mary-Anne Gontsana

On the pavement between small businesses in the busy street of Lerotholi Avenue in Langa is a large statue of a woman, made out of grass, stone, mud and clay. Inside, is Langa’s first art gallery, 16 on Lerotholi.

The statue is by artist Angus Taylor.

The gallery, founded by four young people from Langa, officially opened its doors in 2019.

“Langa is known for the arts, so there was a need for Langa to have its own gallery where we can express our thoughts and feelings, and celebrate our heroes,” said artist Thulani Fesi, one of the founders. “In every genre of arts, Langa has had someone. Whether it’s theatre, television, radio, music, journalism, there’s been someone to shine.”

The four own the gallery and reinvest part of the money for each artwork sold into the project. The rest goes to the artist.

Mpilo Ngcukana, also one of the founders, said artists such as painter and sculptor Mongezi Gum had asked to be exhibited in the gallery. “He’s a Langa resident who resonated with the project,” he said.

“Some artists contact us on social media, others come to the gallery to show us their work,” said Ngcukana.“ We’ve also got a partnership with Everard Read Cape Town. They allow us access to their artists’ work.”

The blue-painted room is filled with paintings and photographs and small sculptures. The current exhibition, Abantu Bethu (our people) features artists from different parts of SA and other African countries, exploring daily life at different points in time, through a variety of lenses.

Mpilo Ngcukana (left) and Thulani Fesi are founders of the Langa gallery.

At present the gallery focuses on visual art but the owners plan to move into music, with live performances at the gallery.

“We grew up hearing stories about Brenda Fassie,” said Fesi. “We grew up living arts because of Langa,” said Fesi. “Almost every street has someone famous, or you live close to someone famous.”

“We wanted a business which is different from what you find in townships. Not alcohol, nor meat, not spaza shops, you know, the regular types of businesses.”

“It’s still a journey,” said Ngcukana. “We’re a very young gallery and we’re still trying to develop our artistic taste through these exhibitions and through meeting the artists.”

16 on Lerotholi operates every day and a number of events are in the planning phase for the months to come.

Behind the gallery, there is a big open space and next to it, a vegetable garden.

Fesi said live performances would be held in the open space and there would be an outdoor eatery focusing on healthy foods. “We find that that is also something that is not readily available in places like Langa. So we want to provide freshly squeezed juices, smoothies, breakfast bowls, salads.”

“This is going to be a place where people from different backgrounds, different nationalities, all over the world can come and enjoy each other because the richness of Langa is not in the infrastructure, it’s in the people,” said Fesi.

Food for the eatery would be supplied from the vegetable garden, which is one of several which the group has launched across Langa through The Masakhe Foundation.

“That allows us to be sustainable,” said Ngcukana.

Asked if the gallery would do anything special for Langa’s centenary this year, Desi said no. “The gallery itself is a celebration of people who have made a difference in Langa in these past 100 years,” he said.

At the back of the gallery is another statue, of a man, by Angus Taylor. The owners plan to use the space for live performances and for a restaurant.

TOPICS:  Arts and culture Langa centenary

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