AWOA (A Word of Art)

Artist: Ricky Lee Gordon (aka Freddy Sam)
Location: Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa

Year of completion: 2008
Researcher: Giusy Checola

Artist and art activist Ricky Lee Gordon (aka Freddy Sam) painted murals on the streets for over 12 years in South Africa and other cities like Berlin, Los Angeles, London, Morocco, Atlanta, Portland, and New York. He runs /AWOA (A Word Of Art), a gallery/project space and a movement, which provides an international artist residency program in Woodstock, one of the oldest suburbs of Cape Town.

Gordon explains that “for the everyday man, murals are an experience and satisfaction that I feel can not be replicated by any other art form.” As a muralist, his intention is ”to explore my community and surrounding using public art as a tool to communicate and connect with people from all walks of life, as I am more interested in the experience than the result. I believe removing the greyness from the soul of the city is the job of artist, musicians, and poets.”

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Murals are a very quick, cheap, and effective form of public art; that’s why Gordon’s more than 70 murals are created to be permanent, to be owned by the community and to be replaced when they deteriorate.

In the past the Woodstock area was predominantly a Muslim community, because it was a unique area during the apartheid's housing act and these families were allowed to live here. After a textile industry located in the community, however, the inhabitants were forcibly removed to the townships (over an hour outside the city). Industry has left the area, and today it is plagues by drugs and gangs.

Gordon’s projects are developed together with experts from other disciplines, especially with anthropologist Sydelle Willow Smith, for the investigation of the effects of public art projects for social change, and Cal Burns, who is a social and community strategist and consultant for big brands and local government. Gordon’s aim is use art to uplift poor schools in South Africa and create a 5-year research program that aims to document and study the effects of art for change.

The project on which he’s mostly focused is /AWOA, founded by him in 2008. /AWOA uses creative means to effect positive social change in the Cape Town communities of Woodstock and Khayelitsha, with additional projects located in Swaziland, Transkei and Gambia. Zimbabwean artists Juma Mkwela and Willard Kambeva lead the arts outreach programs, which until now have been run under the name Write on Africa.

These programs include art classes, workshops, and participatory mural projects with children and youth, and often involve local and visiting artists as guest instructors & facilitators in order to make the communities maintain a sense of agency within each activation, by sharing ownership and pride for the outcome.

Through /AWOA he encourages responsible corporate social investment and have built relationships with several corporate entities, most notably a partnership with OgilvyCT in the ongoing rejuvenation of Percy Bartley House, a group home for boys living on the streets. Since 2010, this project has seen the interior and exterior of the house transformed into a colorful and inspiring environment with murals by local and international artists.

The future plan of /AWOA is to create a one-room art school with the new name of Art in the City, providing a safe and supporting environment to create, share, and grow. The school will host a program of daytime classes for at-risk youth not attending school and promising adult artists from around Cape Town, as well as after school and weekend classes for youth from Woodstock and Khayelitsha. Students from outside the Woodstock area will be provided transport to and from their home communities.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency