Extending conversations beyond the page

It is rare for a publication’s publisher, contributor and reader to be encouraged to and engage in direct discourse over a topic, art etc. in the public arena.

The Chimurenga Chronicle street poster campaign achieves just that.
Commenting on the posters content, editor of Chimurenga, Ntone Edjabe notes that “they are the questions which we posed to ourselves during research,” says Edjabe, “the questions posed to writers in commissioning the stories and the questions the writers themselves ask you, their readers in their responses.”

As a public art intervention underway on the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town (South Africa), Nairobi (Kenya), Lagos (Nigeria) and Göteborg (Sweden), the street posters are more than just an innovative advertising campaign. By demanding a response or an answer, they explore the city as newspaper, tapping into how word of mouth and conversations on the street generate news and extending the conversations of the project beyond the page and into public space.

Chimurenga got into discussion with Rangoato Hlasane, co-director/founder of Keleketla!Library - an independent, inter-disciplinary library and media arts project - on designing Chronic street posters.

What encouraged Keleketla to collaborate on the poster campaign?
Rangoato Hlasane: Keleketla! Library is located at the site where supporters of the 1956 Treason Trial accused performed campaigns holding WE STAND BY OUR LEADERS posters. Thus, The Chronic provides us with an opportunity to engage with the now ironic statement. Furthermore, De Villiers Street (Johannesburg) was one of the sites heavily affected by the ‘xenophobic attacks’ of 2008 due to its deep immigrant economic activity. Inward out, the campaign links with our focus that is collaborative, network based media/arts projects.

What informed the design of the Chronic posters? Did the placement of posters in the public space influence your process?

A poster, meant for the visually polluted cities of Jozi, Lagos and Nairobi needs to breathe. The A1 size gave me the opportunity to let the word/image flow on the canvas.

With regards to the colour scheme, the classic Chimurenga colours of red, black and white happen to be a Keleketla! signature so it was natural choice for the palette. When it came to the aesthetic I left it to process. I needed a very tactile approach, as I am not such a fan of the digital design. Initially the Keleketla! Lab and I considered creating silkscreen masters which we would then scan for repro. (It) Would have been fun but the time and cost implications didn’t make much sense. I chose to do real size collages in black and white, which I photographed to add red in Photoshop. It was in theory a simple approach, which gave me the opportunity to play with real size compositing and getting real time results of how the posters will look like in the public space.

How did you negotiate working with the posters’ bold questions and provoking titles?
It was refreshingly challenging responding to these titles! Some of the titles affected my approach more than others. While the series is united by the colour pallet, the other connecting element is the emphasis on key words, highlighting some of the ironies and as such giving each headline a chance to have a voice.

For example, making DIPLOMATS to be XENOPHOBIC, questioning the notion of AFRICAN PUBLISHING, making HERE to become HOME. I achieved this through colour, specifically red and/or font size. The play on colour/size is also informed by spaces where these posters would occupy - dense, populated urban spaces. The unequal size of font rejects conventional newspaper headline strategy while responding to distance and proximity.

The text is also given enough room to breathe in response to the density of visual material in our cities. SOUTH AFRICAN GUILT TAX is the only poster where the words/text is bold and takes the majority of the canvas. I wanted to achieve a sense of claustrophobia, suffocation, constipation, a need for a release, a relief. KENYANS RUNNING asked for a dynamic diagonal.

I looked for fonts that would be flexible; condensed or spaced out. I sourced and manipulated typefaces that would stand out from the rest of the posters in the public. Whoopass worked like magic for the title/s and SF Collegiate Solid was bold yet readable for the headlines.

Once the posters were completed, how did you go about executing the poster campaign in and around Johannesburg? Who did you collaborate with to carry out your strategy?
Our strategy is informed by the networks we have. We are working with ‘public spaces’ such as the streets, campuses, bars and independent retail spaces. These spaces have thus far been receptive versus the mainstream avenues such as national bookstores.

We are also implementing a mural along the De Villiers Street block of the Drill Hall in Joubert Park. The mural site is selected because it is a high traffic zone, an informal taxi rank for northbound commuters. It is also both long and panoramic and therefore can be viewed from close up and long range view.

The mural site is also selected because of its political significance. De Villiers was one of the areas affected by the “xenophobic” violence in 2008. As mentioned previously, De Villiers was also an assembly point for the supporters of the Treason Trial accused in 1956. The supporters lined up along De Villiers to enter the Drill Hall through Quarts Street, holding posters printed: WE STAND BY OUR LEADERS. The mural will incorporate various posters from the The Chronic’s public art intervention.

Rangoato Hlasane and Malose Malahlela lead the campaign in charge logistics and liason between Chimurenga Lab and service providers, collaborators and volunteers.

The mural project is overseen by Reneilwe Mathibe and Sandile Radebe with young participants; Ernest Binali, Nomaswazi Ncube, Courage Ndlovu, Annita Nyarungwe, Precious Chijabura, Onalewa Buka, Hloni Pilisa, Vimbai Chinembiri, Annita Chivakara, Leroy Nkambero and Debora Kanyile.

Other collaborators/spaces include Lehlohonolo Dlamini (Erkhuruleni), Love + Revolution (Melville), Bogosi Sekhukhuni (UJ Bunting Rd Campus), Dikeledi (WITS), CUSS Collective (Yeoville) VANSAGauteng, Center for Historical Reenactments, Johannesburg Art Gallery, XARRA Books and Kitcheners Carvery Bar (Braamfontein). Naturally, collaborators and volunteers increase in size as the campaign progresses.

For more from Chimurenga Chronic, see our special report.

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