When Fred de Vries, my mentor for the Chinese-Johannesburg journalism in-depth project, said “there is much more to Chinese art than the clichés, go beyond the clichés”, I got nervous. Was there more to Chinese art than Chinese fans, Chinese dragons, Chinese sculptures?
Fred suggested I look into the “notorious” Chinese contemporary and visual artist Ai Weiwei and how the global community views him.
“We don’t see Chinese art as post-modernist,” said Fred and he suggested I explore traditional versus post modernist art.
I left our meeting with a sense of direction but without a clear compass in my hand, I did what every self-respecting Gen Y would do, that is, Google “post+modernist+Chinese+art+Ai+Weiwei”.
Though the results were pleasing, I didn’t know how to relate Ai Weiwei and his fight for uncensored art to the Chinese-Johannesburg project.
Although there are some correlations between the Chinese and South African government when it comes to censoring “controversial” art, I still needed to connect the dots lest one of our very high strung female mentors tell me: “there’s this thing… called Google, how about you use it hey.”
I decided I had had enough of desktop journalism and walked across the street to the Wits Fine Art department. That’s when I met Gabi Ngcobo, an independent curator and the co-founder of the Johannesburg based independent collective platform, the Center for Historical Reenactments (CHR), who introduced me to a Chinese-born street artist called DAleast who lives in South Africa.
DAleast spends six months of the year traveling and has tagged walls on nearly every continent. He has a unique brand of graffiti all his own. Below is a picture of a building he tagged in Johannesburg Maboneng precinct:
He won’t reveal his true name, but says he has been dedicated to arts ever since he was 3 years old. DALeast paints most of his graffiti pieces in a hurry while looking over his shoulder for the police. He was arrested right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
DAleast creates illusion through his paintings that can be a switch for people’s minds. He expresses life-emotions and the environment, and uses different artistic forms to speak. His illusions are big enough to admire from a distance yet detailed to observe from up close.
What he does is paint giant animals onto the sides of buildings using black spray paint, which he builds up with grey and white to create a 3D effect.
His animals are typically depicted in two disconnected parts, often disintegrating at the center or falling away at the sides. His uses the animals to reflects the human condition.
DAleast was born in Wuhan, central China’s most populated city.
DAleast tagged a building in the Maboneng precinct in Johannesburg. He has also tagged buildings in Soweto and other areas in Johannesburg.
I plan to produce a photo essay of the work he produced in Joburg, Soweto and surrounding areas. DAleast, if you see this, please give a sister an interview ❤