The Colour of Hope
Zimbabwe’s multi-coloured flag portrays Zimbabweans as a colourful people. Hence the progressive loss of colour in Harare – once dubbed the Sunshine City – is a cause for concern among authorities and residents alike. While the municipal authorities grapple with more pressing issues pertaining to service delivery, the idea of bringing back Harare’s lustre has never ranked high on the priority list. That was before a Harare resident, Louise Bragge, founded an organisation called Urban Space, whose aim is to reclaim spaces in the city, rejuvenate and/or re-purpose them.
Nevertheless, Harare City authorities were not exactly enthusiastic about giving Louise Bragge’s ‘funky’ ideas the green light. At least not at large spaces like shopping centres. They did however let Bragge try working within a small space as a pilot project. Together they agreed on a pedestrianised part of Speke Avenue. The small Urban Space team’s challenge was to use this as an example of how to incorporate environmental sustainability, public art and community participation into urban planning. Towards the end of 2014, with the help of a grant from Hivos, they descended upon Speke Avenue and began their transformation. Take a look at the short video of the great initiative.
For most people walking on the streets of Harare, the artistic project known as Colour Spekes, was something out of the ordinary. Many people stopped in their tracks to marvel and wonder what was happening as the Urban Space team drew all manner of colourful patterns on the street surface itself! This was a first of its kind as most Zimbabweans expect murals to be painted on walls or billboards. I was among the multitudes of pedestrians awestricken by the unique public art exhibition. Ever the citizen reporter, I quickly took some photos as if I had some premonition of one day writing for Cult in Zimbabwe!
Colour Spekes was a major triumph in transforming, through public art, a public space that had gradually declined in status. Said Bragge, “Re-purposing public spaces is important when the users of the space no longer respect it or do not even consider it as a public space – this unfortunately is the case of many of our open spaces, streets and parks.” Renowned Harare based mural artist, Martin Stewart, participated in the amazing project and reportedly said, “People love it. Many are taking selfies and enjoy the seating. There is more static traffic as people like the space now, so they spend more time there.”
In his blog Fred-a-sketch, Fred Baele who is married to Louise Bragge said, “This is the result of over two years of preparation, contacts, lobbying and persuasion from Urban Space -my wife’s company-. Lou has been relentless in pushing the idea of bringing art, environment and co-creation and working to transform public spaces. Colouring, greening, bringing people together is not only something good to do, it is also something that is so important to build a community, to take ownership and to move forward. The reaction of the public is amazing, people were asking questions, participating in the paint, sitting on the new public seats, just feeling a bit more happy and smiling.”
In the end Colour Spekes was more than just an artistic success. It provided a much needed ray of hope. It brought together great artists such as Martin Stewart and Jimmy Saruchera who worked seamlessly with at least 450 volunteers. The designs were voted for by hundreds of Zimbabweans. It was a collective effort for collective glory. Ordinary Zimbabweans collaborated to create something refreshingly awesome. There was no consideration of one’s skin colour or social standing. The only colour considerations made were those involving paint! The project stands as a testimony to the culture of tolerance and racial harmony prevailing in Zimbabwe. It is a culture one only hopes will continue to exist even after every drop of colour fades on Speke Avenue.