When others may see disused buildings, concrete walls and the mundane everyday, acclaimed South African artist Faith XLVII sees beauty… and possibility. It’s why, aged 16, the world of graffiti entranced her – giving her the name Faith XLVII.
While Faith XLVII’s graffiti moniker has stuck, her work has evolved heavily since she was 16. Faith XLVII’s list of exhibitions is dizzying, and have seen her creations travel from Germany and France to Mexico, America and Italy, including career highlights of showcases at Art Basel. Which makes her upcoming exhibition, Elixir, all the more poignant: opening in Miami and running during this year’s Art Basel.
In fact, America is close to Faith XLVII’s heart: she’s now based in Los Angeles with a studio in the city’s industrial area of Boyle Heights. ‘I’ve been travelling extensively for over 10 years, and wanted to expand my horizons on a personal and professional level,’ the Cape Town native explains. ‘Los Angeles is currently a hub for artists and musicians, so it seemed like the right place.’ On a wider scale, America has proven to be the right place simply because of its size: ‘America is much larger than South Africa,’ Faith XLVII adds. ‘In my experience, there’s wider support for various styles and mediums of work. Comparatively, I’ve found South Africa’s art scene to be a lot more insular and not as inclusive.’ It’s an interesting – if not contentious – observation by the artist.
But wherever Faith XLVII is in the world, she’s fascinated by the cityscapes and urban jungles around her. ‘I’ve always been interested in the environments that my street works are in, as this creates a dialogue between the artwork and the place. This bleeds over into some of my installations and studio works which become textural and considerate of medium in relation to imagery.’
Faith XLVII’s artwork is varied – from murals along highways to intricately detailed photographic collages – but one thing her pieces always are is immersive. ‘I work with the thinking of not separating art from life,’ she considers. It’s why her recent piece, The Unbound, a series of white peace flags in motion – that Faith XLVII describes as ‘a call for the humanitarian rights of people, and ecological welfare of the planet’ – was painted onto the towering concrete walls of a building in downtown San Francisco: immersed in everyday life. It’s a powerful tactic for confronting passersby otherwise determined to continue on with their live – and why many compare Faith XLVII to Banksy.
It’s not the first time Faith XLVII has created work on this sort of scale – drive from Cape Town towards the N2 and you’ll spot her 2014 mural Harvest, a project with Design Indaba to draw attention to the abysmal lack of lighting in Khayelitsha. There are also a number of her works across buildings in Jo’burg, as well as in Durban such as A Study of Warwick Triangle in Rush Hour. The size of all of these works is impressive, and the effect of both blending into and yet standing out from our concrete cityscapes, arresting.
Faith XLVII’s upcoming solo, Elixir, will showcase the breadth of her repertoire, featuring paintings on wood, video installations, tapestries and sculptures. It’s the first in a series she has planned under the same name, with a second showcase in the works in Melbourne, Australia, in 2019.
‘The notion of an elixir as a healing, life-giving substance is what informs this body of work,’ explains Faith XLVII, when I ask what we can expect from her upcoming solo in Miami. ‘We all become exhausted by the endless social and political struggles around us. I work hard not to lose hope for the future, and this body of work is a part of keeping focused on future growth, rather than on despair.
‘Some of the works will explore the archetypal nature and wisdom of animals and symbols, while others will be odes to peace manifestos, lamenting the idiocy of war and greed.’
It’s Faith XLVII’s response to the crescendo of America’s current political turmoil and renewed tensions back home in South Africa as we head into a General Election year, not to mention Europe’s Brexit battles. ‘For me, the Elixir project is a way of processing the chaos that’s happening in the world,’ she continues. ‘An elixir is a healing tonic; I’d like my work to be something that can bring some psychological questioning and healing to the viewer, as well as to myself.’
Elixir opens at Miami’s Castanier Gallery from 17 November. Find out more at faith47.com.