Faith 47 is South African. She illustrates and paints her world; asserting herself through the images and words she creates, and often leaves on walls. Her canvas is diverse, her work finding its place in whatever environment she may find herself, either blending in with the texture of a location or standing out with an unmistakable presence. Faith’s awe with the world and her quest for inspiration from a closeness to the universal humanity makes her work is a process of self realization and dialogue with the people and places. It is powerful in its subtlety and beautifully frank – both gentle and harsh. Her words are poetic images; never without meaning which leaving her audience, to reflect on what they are seeing.
“We need to step up and when we have children we need to make sure our boys have an equal view of women”
Format: Who is Faith 47, where are you from, how would you describe your practice and what you do.
Faith 47: I’m from South Africa. [The country] has raised me and given me hidings and heartaches. I’m rooted here but I’m no believer in patriotism. Lines drawn on a map with a pencil are not in sync with nature. Therefore I belong to this world at large. I breathe, in the knowledge that death is certain [and] I am trying to fully catch each breath.
Format: What was the defining or most inspiring moment in your artistic life?
Faith 47: There are too many for me to single one out. Travelling always ups the excitement and inspiration. Johannesburg missions always get my blood aching with awe. I love that city. Last year in the space of six months I was in Cape Town, Berlin, Barcelona, Belo Horizonte, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo. Inserting yourself into one bubble of reality and then into another allows you to see how small the world is and how similar people are, despite cultural barriers. Memories of running under public water fountains in Brazil after hot days of painting in the favela, missing sleep and planes, painting with new people in strange places; under bridges in foreign cities, living in my sketch book, phoning my son from Turkish phone booths missing him dearly… all these things are the color and texture of my walls.
Format: Your pieces show a distinct local cultural influence, they speak of where you seem to be in the world. You also employ the whole graffiti/NY style in your letters and pieces. Can you describe this aspect of your style and talk about your influences?
Faith 47: The graffiti culture has schooled and inspired me and that’s where my love for blockbusters and letters come from. I’ve got an appreciation for the grimy and raw side of graffiti. I appreciate the anti-social nature of it, as I find this world quite twisted. There are a lot of value systems and ideas of good and evil that are, to me, unfounded or warped. I guess this comes through in some of my work. As for South Africa, it’s a very complex country; it could take lifetimes to understand it. It’s very beautiful, and the people here are hard as nails, like ninjas, with big hearts. The class divide is so strong and there are many empty pockets. A hungry man is an angry man, so there is a lot of violence and the economics are worrying. I put all of this into my work; the questions I have, the feelings I have. It’s a part of the breathing process….
Format: Unlike a lot of urban art and graffiti, your work often carries a specific comment, message, question, challenge. Do you see this as your method of outreach to effect change and how do you think the people who see these pieces react?
Faith 47: My work is more of a personal process. The fact that it is on the streets means that it communicates with the general public. I’m OK with this because I believe in the utilization of the streets for art and communication as opposed to the ever present corporate advertising communication. We all affect each other, each conversation we have affects another person, this is the essence of humanity and we need to be a part of this process. It is not my aim to comment, message, question or challenge, only to be a part of this human process, reaction is up to the onlooker and based on their own mindset.
Format: Do you plan a concept based on a location? Does location inspire the message, or is it site specific?
Faith 47: Either I have an image in my mind and search for the right location to place it, or I have a location in mind and I search for the right image to fit it. There is most always a relationship between the two. These days I tend to prefer planning the works to fit the environment. I’m looking for final images that are strong and emotive so I’m keeping my time and mind focused on that, with distractions to a minimum.
Format: The piece you did on a trailer; an image of a woman with her child, with a slogan on her shirt which reads ‘Boys Ain’t Nothin But Hoes And Tricks’, subverts what once was once just another sexist song lyric. Your work also portrays women in positions of power or struggling and represents the resilience and strength of women despite oppression. How does your feminist message relate to your use of graffiti as part of a larger male dominated hip hop culture?
Faith 47: South Africa is full of testosterone and the African cultures are male dominated. Growing up here you get irritated and frustrated with the stories of abuses you hear from your friends and the general plate of subservience that a lot of women have to eat from. I find the men here pretty macho. Hip Hop culture perpetuates this attitude and quite frankly, it’s boring. Women are very powerful creatures, beautiful and strong, mystical and empathetic. We need to step up and when we have children we need to make sure our boys have an equal view of women. This will only make them more balanced and better lovers in the long run.
Format: What is the role of photography in your work? It often seems as if the photos of your pieces show them blending with the urban landscape and decay. Is this an afterthought, or is there another layer of meaning in your photos?
Faith 47: The message is the photo, but for me what is sacred is the experience. Maybe the work stays up for a while and people will see it, but the photo immortalizes the moment, allows the landscape to travel to other people in other countries. Therein lies the magic, the photo is all powerful.
Format: Where do you see your work going? What are your plans for future projects? What are you most excited about right now?
Faith 47: I’m working to get to a place where I can do solely what I want to do. I need a patron really. I aim to do some large mural projects in Africa, to travel more and do more oil paintings and gallery shows. I am currently working on a new video piece with Rowan [Pybus]. You can see the last one we did on http://vimeo.com/2169070. [Just] Things like that, [and] I’m trying to find calm and maintain my breathing.