A Social Distancing Experiment
Titled “Wet Paint”, the artists’ ambition is to bring the social distancing message to life in their unique artistic styles, based on the idea that social distancing does not mean anti-social.
In the experiment, eight locally-made Houtlander Interdependence II benches have been installed in busy public spaces in and around Johannesburg. The two artists then painted murals directly onto the middle of the benches and then left “wet paint” signs, encouraging people to sit alongside yet apart from each other.
“I was inspired to create a beautiful and happy artwork that would draw people’s attention and get them excited to sit next to it and practice social distancing. To me, social distancing means respect for human life. I’m not only protecting myself from being infected with Covid-19, but I’m doing the same for fellow human beings,”says multi-disciplinary artist Baba Tjeko.
Artist and designer, Tjeko portrays African ideas and perspectives through his Litema artwork, a form of Basotho mural art composed of decorative geometric patterns, mostly in black and white with hints of mainly blue, yellow and red in some pieces. In the installation, he used red as the dominant colour and chose to merge his signature patterns, lines and colours with symbols that include the chalice and star.
Speaking to the times we live in, art director, designer and illustrator Curious Lauren’s style contrasts sometimes serious messages with a bright, bold and inviting execution style that is friendly and easy to consume, regardless of the juxtaposition.
“I wanted to create something that would stand out, draw the viewer in and tell a smart and charming story. I was excited and a little nervous to see how people would interact with these pieces and have an aha moment. I do hope the artworks gave people a little smile under their masks that they carried with them throughout the rest of their day,” says the Joburg-based artist, whose work typically contains strong messages of empowerment, equality, self-care and inclusivity.
The benches are in easy to spot locations around Gauteng, including Menlyn on Main in Pretoria; Mall of Africa Waterfall Park in Midrand; and Sandton Gautrain forecourt. By leaving hand-written “wet paint” signs in place (long after the paint had in fact dried), the levels of social distancing compliance actually improved dramatically, as shown in a short film produced around the installation and reveal.
As South Africa heads into the festive summer season and lockdown restrictions in the country continue to relax, initiatives like these might just help to keep us from slipping back into old social habits too quickly and, in so doing, play a small but significant role in preventing a second wave of infections.
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