Street art has always been an act of rebellious self expression, however, as time has progressed society has begun to embrace it as a creative celebration and as an artistic medium for social progress. With this, Converse has launched a campaign in cities across the world—including South Africa—painting sustainable murals and bringing new meaning to street art. With our global climate crisis continuing to worsen, moving with critical eco-consciousness has become imperative in everything we do as individuals, corporations and communities, and is tied to larger social issue such as food security, ones health and the further marginalisation of vulnerable peoples. Members of our global Converse All Stars community of creatives have partnered with Converse to paint murals in cities across the world using KNOxOUT paint, which uses sunlight to reduce noxious air pollutants thus purifying the surrounding air. The street art campaign, which first launched last year August on a global scale, has been named Converse City Forests and is a celebration of creating together for social progress.
Here in South Africa and in the spirit of Heritage month, the mural created by artist Seth Pimentel is located on Commissioner Street, Maboneng. Through the vision of local creatives, Converse believes that self-expression and art have the power to reflect the current times, provoke dialogue, and build bridges between us. The murals are a public call for progress in highly visible areas of each city and are bringing new meaning to street art to create a more sustainable and just future. As cities reopen and recover, the hope is that these murals can be a bright spot: provoking dialogue on the role art plays in our daily lives and on the streets, and reflecting a more sustainable and equitable future through the messages from local young creatives. Bubblegum Club delved into conversation with Converse All Star Seth to further unpack the collaboration and the process of conceptualising and completing the mural.
What was your starting point in articulating a visual vocabulary for this mural in partnership with converse?
I wanted to convey a sense of tangibility. I think the first thing I started with was reinterpreting the general definition of tangibility. A visceral experience as opposed to the structured, archaic definition. As I was spiral bound — down a rabbit hole of conceptual thinking — I realised I was drafting work that wouldn’t communicate well in a public space. There should always be a clear, clean-cut intention in creating work in public spaces. understandable, relatable; Human. Hence, the deconstruction of tangibility to simplistic silhouettes of hands. But the hands could be symbolic of something entirely different — we’ll get to that. As you drive or walk past the mural, you should stop and think about it, but it shouldn’t be so conceptual that it feels alien to you. I started thinking about our heritage. Our ancestry.
I had painted the mural around the Heritage weekend and was doing research on Mitochondrial DNA within our maternal blood relatives. Discovery of our individual identity through embracing Maternity and “biological femininity” (femininity is not exclusive to women) hence the Femme portraits. Did you know that we can trace down our first ancestor through the mitochondrial DNA found in Maternal members our family? You can actually trace your roots, your identity, through the maternal humans you share blood with. How fascinating is that? It blew my mind. DNA is found in all humans, but there’s a level of accuracy within maternal testing. I added the Xs on the eyes as a visual motif in my work. It’s not conceptual, it’s not meant to evoke anything. It’s simply a stylistic choice and signature in a large portion of my work.
You invoke a number of things when speaking about the commentary you were hoping to make with the mural; beauty, energy, love, strength, connection etc. The mural itself is figured by what could be read as 3 femme individuals. Why these figures, specifically in relation to the commentary you are hoping to make?
I guess the first sense of connection most humans experience is the first 5 seconds of connection between us and our mothers. The releases of oxytocin the minute our skin touches our mothers or a maternal figure. It’s primal. Subconscious, our ID. The tangibility of connection. As we get older — still in our infantile and primal brains — we experience firsthand the level of strength and love our maternal figures have for us without us even consciously [being cognitive of] it. How we are fed, provided for, with undivided attention and unconditional love. As we start to develop our egos and super egos, we then have the ability to deconstruct our subjective definition of beauty. Subconsciously, regardless of orientation — we appreciate the beauty of femininity through our childhood experiences and relationships with Femme figures in our lives.
I definitely think Femininity is not mutually exclusive to women as we all exhibit traits of masculinity and femininity, regardless of our orientation. In this destructive and [hyper]-masculine society we live in, any encounters with femininity is strong, powerful, yet calming and understanding. I think the easiest way to celebrate and highlight the ideas of love, compassion, empathy, unity was by creating Femme portraits. [Through] Celebrating the ever-growing and ever-powerful aspects of femininity; something I think a lot of us could understand. I could literally write 20 pages about this, [however] a lot of this is very biased and all derivative from my own masculine encounters with femininity — as well as my feminine encounters with masculinity. My multiplicity.
Why and/or how do you think an initiative like this is necessary especially within the context of Joburg?
Johannesburg is a gritty city. We have no equilibrium, or respect for our environment, Nor the Femme figures in this city. We need to introduce the idea of balanced living and [we need to do it] fast. We are losing sight of what is right, and it will all crumble on us faster than we know it. We are still trying to justify everything with oblivious reasoning for things that are happening right in front of us. That’s why it’s very vital that this mural was painted in the right artery of Johannesburg. To push a conscious agenda in changing our relationship with our environment, but at the same time highlight the constant battle South Africans face on a daily. You decide what the hands mean.