Street artists making a difference in Africa


The energy and variety of Bristol’s street art scene is world-renowned. From its 1980s originators like Inkie and 3D, on via a certain Banksy to today’s crop (3Dom, Soker, Cheba…), Bristol has for 30 years been a global epicentre for street art.

What’s perhaps less well known is how, over the past decade, a bunch of Bristol street artists have helped to make a difference to one of the world’s poorest communities.

  1. Artwork by Shepard Fairey, far left, Xenz, top right, and   Mr Jago, left

    Artwork by Shepard Fairey, far left, Xenz, top right, and Mr Jago, left

Every year since 2003, the Bristol charity Temwa has held an auction of street art to raise funds for its vital projects in one of the poorest regions of Malawi in east Africa. Renowned street artists raised – and often still based – in Bristol have donated works each year, in the process raising tens of thousands of pounds for Temwa’s community projects in Malawi, spanning everything from health education via schools support and skills training to sustainable agriculture and forestry.

The tenth instalment is coming up this Friday, and it looks like being the biggest yet. The auction, held at the Attic Bar on Stokes Croft, will feature works by some hallowed names in Bristol street art – including Paris, Xenz, China Mike, FLX, Will Barrass and Mr Jago. Also donating work is Shepard Fairey, the world-famous US artist who featured prominently in Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop.

70 pieces of artwork will go under the hammer, ranging from classical oil paintings to stencilled skate decks, alongside large contemporary canvases and screen prints, with estimated values ranging from £50 to £1200. This year’s tenth anniversary special will also feature live painting from a roster of artists including the venerable Inkie – former Banksy collaborator, now world-famous graffiti and graphic artist and the man behind Bristol’s hugely successful annual graffiti-fest See No Evil. Presiding over the auction will be Tom Mauger, charismatic frontman of Bristol ska ensemble Babyhead. After the final hammer slams, the celebration will continue into the night with sets from DJs and beat boxers.

Over the past decade, Temwa has grown in tandem with Bristol’s world-renowned street art scene. Director and co-founder Jo Hook worked with Dicy, one of the Bristol scene’s key instigators, at central Bristol art shop Icon back in 1996, and later that decade met numerous other artists working at the Thekla music venue. “This hugely talented crop of Bristol artists got involved with us early on,” Jo recalls. “They helped start the whole thing, and they help keep it running by donating art year after year.”

“Temwa’s journey has been amazing,” Jo continues. “The support we have received from artists and musicians in Bristol over the past decade has been so heart-warming. It is great to see so many generous, talented souls doing so much to help communities in Malawi that they will probably never get the chance to visit.”

The exception there is the influential Bristol street artist and author FLX, who in 2010 spent ten days working on a community art project in Malawi. “FLX witnessed first-hand just how remote and neglected these communities are, as well as how dedicated and passionate our team are,” Jo explains. “He was also surprised at how large our Malawi operation is – we have 34 full-time members of staff running 14 different projects over 89 villages, covering a community of 39,000 people. He came back really impressed with what he’d seen – and the news of our good work spread through the Bristol art community.”

The annual auction provides vital funds – typically around £9,000 each year – to keep Temwa’s projects running in impoverished regions of rural northern Malawi. “We train villagers to grow a variety of vegetables and fruit to improve the nutrition in their diet,” Jo explains.

“We also plant trees to combat the devastating effects of deforestation, run HIV testing clinics and work to combat the stigma surrounding those who test positive, build school blocks and fund students through their secondary school education.”

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