Art, Recycling And Community Collide

Illa Thompson
Mercury Column 111
November 2017
Halloween as an excuse to dress up and have a party, is a fairly new thing to South Africa. Already it has captured the imagination of costume hires, party shops and supermarkets – all selling faux pumpkins, scary sweets and witches hats.
I live in Glenwood – in a wide jacaranda-lined road of Victorian semis and small blocks of flats. We pride ourselves in our sense of neighbourhood – working together to keep our road clean and tidy; plant shrubs in public places; engage with council officials to maintain (or in some cases replace) our beloved jacarandas; host activities in our nearby park, bowling club, KZNSA Gallery and schools and until the city regrettably pulled the support for their annual Celebrate Durban Festival (which used to support around 60 authentic community festivals across the municipality), we used to hold an annual Glenwood Community Festival.
Four years ago, my sister who lives up the road, and a bunch of her mates, thought it would be fun to hold a neighbourhood Halloween party.
So with a zero budget – a team of a dozen or so Ferguson Rd residents and friends planned a party.
We were inspired by the trademark work of Umcebo Design, whose studio is close by, in creating art made from recycled and found objects. We also found a myriad ideas online. We called out for clean used 2l milk-cartons, 2l cool drink bottles, tyres, shopping bags, tin cans, newspapers, egg boxes and fabric, and donated string, paint and stationery.
Weekends and evenings were spent in my sister’s home, getting to know neighbours while transforming milk cartons into skeletons; tins into tin-can men; egg cartons into bats and ghosts; tyres into spiders and minions (even a bright purple one with fabulous lilac punk hair); cardboard boxes into gravestones; laundry baskets into witches’ cages; and drink bottles into pumpkins….. last year we made a 3m high monster python from garbage bags on a wooden frame, and this year we added a larger-than-life size Casper made from a chicken wire frame with ghostly skin made from patchwork-inspired milk carton plastic squares.
It helps that my sister Helen is super-motivated, community-spirited and incredibly organised, and we have an artist (Ujala Sewpersad) and designer (Ian Reed) close by – also a core group of neighbours who embraced the idea with enthusiasm and staying power. Hats off to Bernadene Potgieter whose artistry and attention to detail made even our most clumsy attempts of recycled art look fabulous.
I swear I now hold the Guinness book of records of having cut the most milk bottles into strips (feels like thousands) to make ghosts tails…. and I have become a demon with the glue gun! But more importantly, I have shared meals, drinks, laughs and stories with my neighbours, whom I greet when we pass in the street, and now know by name. The neighbourhood kids all joined in to decorate the road and hopefully have made connections of their own. We have a functioning relationship with nearby businesses who have come onboard to support us – for example Mooki Noodles was a drop-off point for sweets and donations, and Hi-Q help with materials. The wonderful ever-supportive Blue Security kept us safe, and the police helped with due permissions and closed the road for us.
We started our event at the KZNSA Gallery and ended at the Berea Bowling Club – so those businesses benefited too.
This year we had approximately 3000 visitors to our little road. My home was open to strangers, and children ate sweets in my garden. I was literally hoarse for a week after chatting above the noise to all the mums, dads and kids who visited. We were all safe, well-behaved and all had enormous fun.
In the midst of the overwhelming fear, sadness and chaos that is contemporary South Africa – the madly retro old-school idea of a street party for neighbourhood families, making all decorations and costumes ourselves on a shoestring, sends out a message that another way is possible.
….. Now has anybody got a spare storeroom or lock up garage please – we need to store all the stuff til next year!!

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