Katlehong, like many townships, is a grey place. Most of the houses are grey. And often there is a cloud of grey smoke in the air above the houses. But there is one building in Katlehong that is not grey. This building is the Katlehong Art Centre.
When Learn and Teach went to visit the Katlehong Art Centre, we had no problems finding it. The walls of the Art Centre are covered with bright paintings of people and animals. There is no way you can miss it.
At the Art Centre, we walked past wo big clay animals at the gate. Inside, we found Napa Mokoena, waiting for us. Napa told us how the rt Centre started.
A GROUP OF SCHOOL BOYS
In 1969 about ten of us came together,” Napo said. “We were all interested in art. We wanted to start an art group so that we could work together. We were very young at the time – in fact we were all still at school.
We had nothing – no money and nowhere to work. Sometimes people would give us money to buy paints but the money never lasted for long. Then we found a shack in someone’s backyard. We used the shack for everything – it was our workshop, our storeroom and our office.”
FROM A SHACK TO A HALL
People used to come to see what we were doing. Some people wanted to join us, others wanted to learn how to paint and draw. But there was no space. So we started o look around for a new, bigger place.
In 1976 we asked the East Rand Administration Board to give us a house. They did not give us a house. Instead they said we could use the old community hall. And that is how we came to be here.”
We moved into the hall. But we id not just want the hall for ourselves only. We wanted everyone in Katlehong to use it. We looked for people to help us teach. It didn’t matter what people knew – dancing, singing, weaving, anything – just as long people used the hall.’
FROM ART TO KARATE CLASSES
The Katlehong Art Centre has changed a lot since it started. The young boys who fought for the hall are now grown-ups. And today they are all well-known artists. But like Napo, they have not forgotten the Art Centre. They still work there.
Napo finished his story by telling us what they do today. “Now people teach all sorts of classes here. Apart from the art classes, there are sewing and weaving classes. Someone also teaches karate and boxing. And you can learn how to dance and play music and how to act.”
TRYING TO MAKE MONEY
Napo showed us around the centre. The Centre is full of so many beautiful things that there is not much room to move. There are big clay pots and wire cars. There are wooden sculptures, baskets, mats and paintings of all sizes and colours.
“We keep these things to sell,” Napo told us. “We need money to keep the Centre open. When we sell something, some of the money comes to us. But most of the money goes to the person who made it. So we are also teaching people to make money by using their hands.
ARTISTS AT WORK
Napo took us to see the artists at work. We saw a young man carving wood. He was making a statue of a man. He worked fast and with great care. He told us that he gets his wood from a forest just outside Katlehong.
We also met Bhekisani Manyoni. Bhekisani comes from Rorke’s Drift in Natal. Bhekisani used to make toys for himself when he was young, like most children in the countryside. But Bhekisani never stopped making things out of clay. And today he is a well-known sculptor.
“I work with clay, like people did long ago,” Bhekisani said. He did not stop working while he spoke to us. “And when I work, I put my whole mind on what I am doing. My hands talk better than my mouth.”
YOUNG AND OLD LEARN
We looked into a class. It was full of children. Napo told us that it was an art class for children with learning problems. The children were busy drawing. When they saw us, they wanted us to look at their paintings all at the same time.
“These children really know about art,” said Napo. “They have fresh ways of drawing and painting. We do not teach them. We just give them paper and paint – the rest comes from inside the children.”
We also saw the sewing and weaving classes. Women of all ages were busy making different things. Some were maWng woollen mats, others were weaving grass baskets. The women told us that they teach each other while they work.
A CENTRE FOR THE PEOPLE
We were sad when we left the Katlehong Art Centre. We were sad because we were leaving with nothing. We could not take their beautiful things with us.
But we felt proud as well – proud of what the people of Katlehong are doing. The Art Centre is more than just a place where people come together to work and learn. It is the heart of Katlehong and it makes Katlehong a special place.