By Adwoa Ankoma
There’s a little known initiative, called the Egazini Outreach Project, which has made a major impact in the local Grahamstown community. In terms of bringing visual art to the not-so-privileged, and giving the community a platform from which they can grow in different art forms, they are using art to uplift the community.
Founded by Rhodes fine Arts lecturer Professor Dominic Thorburn, it has grown from its pilot ‘Egazini – The Battle of Grahamstown, Recasting History through Printmaking’ into a significant arts and crafts group with repeat appearances at the National Arts Festival and invitations to display their work in places as faraway as New York and London.
Egazini, which literally means place of blood, and the Battle of Grahamstown were the inspiration for the pilot which saw 30 Grahamstown locals being taken under the wing of the Rhodes University Fine Line Press, creating their own interpretation of the battle. These works were later displayed at the National Arts Festival.
From there, the project catapulted into four community historians being trained under the project and charged with creating African interpretations of history. Unlike other art groups, the Egazini project is different as its art is tasked with the responsibility of telling our African stories, which will hopefully add another dimension to the outlook on African history for future generations.
Today, the project is well-established, with its works displayed in several private and public collections around the world. It has grown from exclusively focusing on printmaking to producing paintings, sculptures and other crafts which are not merely aesthetically pleasing, and now, broadening its inspiration beyond the battle and rather encompassing African history as a whole, it is creating a major contribution to the history from the African’s perspective, going back to the ways of our ancestors, who saw fit to document our history through pioneering cave art and rock paintings.
The public is encouraged to visit the project at its new permanent home in Joza, as the artists themselves are present and always willing to give an explanation of their unique interpretations. It is a shining example of the economic potential of art in the community and Rhodes students who are artistically-inclined are encouraged to get involved. Situated right in the centre of the community, the project looks set to grow, giving opportunity to those inspired, creatively talented locals, whose works may have otherwise gone unnoticed.