Tagging Change


Visual artist SENZO NHLAPO uses graffiti as his medium for social commentary on both local and global topics


To some, graffiti is just a riot of colours that represents mischief and misspent youths. They do not see the discipline as an integral part of street and public art, but rather as a nuisance that seems to be spreading to even the more “sanitised” parts of South Africa. They also tend to think that tagging, as it is also referred to, is not African. These are exactly the people Soweto-based graffiti artist Senzo Nhlapo likes engaging with the most.

It is all about enlightenment and change. Through my works, I am trying to show that graffiti is just another means to get a message across. I use African patterns and bright colours from various tribes and clans like the Ndebele to show just how African tagging can be. I do a lot of research on African art from countries such as Benin, Nigeria and Mali, and their way of life sometimes comes through in some of my projects,” says the Funda Arts Centre Visual Fine Arts graduate, who also went on to complete his Masters in Administration in the Public Sphere at a Swiss university called ECAV (École Cantonale d’Art du Valais).

There has never been a more opportune time for graffiti to be taken more seriously than now and the medium is the most visible and impactful way to get tongues wagging. Think of any public space and chances are that there will be some form of tagging involved – granted, with varying results – but for someone of Senzo’s talents, it’s a canvas he can use to constantly comment on various socially relevant issues.

One of my latest pieces is all about the so-called ‘Yellow Vests’ in Paris, France. This is more than just an issue of French protesters taking over parts of the city, but it is a global topic of governments not listening to their citizens. That is why it is pertinent globally.

Senzo regards education as one of his passions and sees it as they key way to open doors for the underprivileged. He tagged a piece about the student-led #feesmustfall movement that began in 2015, which tried to stop increases in student fees as well as to increase government funding of tertiary institutions.

There are so many young people on the streets of Soweto who – through the arts, and particularly graffiti – are inspired enough to go back to school to study in various artistic fields. After that, they then get employed and some even start their own businesses and employ others. This has resulted in initiatives such as graffiti tours in Soweto, as well as the likes of the Makhelwane Festival, where entire streets are closed and homes are turned into galleries, arts and crafts stalls and venues for creativity.

He may be one of the most prominent graffiti artists in South Africa, but Senzo is committed to developing his craft and he now also uses digital platforms to ensure his works can be accessed worldwide.

I now also design and execute my works on digital canvasses, and I also feature some of my works on music videos as well. I also do live drawings accompanied by a number of bands, as part of performances. While they play the music, I come up with works that add to the experience. This then gets uploaded on various platforms and shared with everyone.

For more information on Senzo’s work, use his handle @Senzart911 to find him on all social media platform. He is also affiliated with BAZ ART, a non-profit organisation that aims to commission, preserve, interpret and promote public art of any styles and forms. baz-art.co.za


WORDS Sibusiso Mkwanazi


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