South African artist changing lives with street murals

Updated 10:08 AM EDT, Tue October 18, 2011

Story highlights

Street artist, Freddy Sam, hopes to bring about social change through his projects

He's transforming the poor suburb of Woodstock, Cape Town with murals

The artist also runs a creative workshop at a local orphanage

Cape Town, South Africa CNN —  

One South African artist is using the street as his canvas and changing lives in the process.

Ricky-Lee Gordon, who goes by his artist name Freddy Sam, describes himself as a creative activist who hopes to bring about social change through his projects.

His latest ambition is to transform the Cape Town suburb, Woodstock, with murals full of color and positive messages.

He says that business owners are happy for murals to be painted on their buildings because the color is rejuvenating the area.

“The area, the landscape and the architecture is really rundown and neglected so a mural can do a lot for an environment,” Gordon said.

“Woodstock is I guess the up and coming art precinct. It was a thriving textile and clothing industry and community. A lot of families would move here to get work in these factories, but these factories unfortunately are closing down,” he continued.

Gordon explains that the cheap rent in Woodstock is now attracting artists and galleries to re-locate to the area but it’s not the only draw.

“Artists like to be surrounded by real culture, and there’s a real culture here. There’s a mix of people and it makes for an interesting life on the street,” he added.

’Traffic light’ artists paint a brighter future

Gordon is also getting the community involved. One of the organizations he works with is the Percy Bartley orphanage, a home to boys aged eight to 18 years.

“When I found out about this home, I proposed to the sponsor to give us funding to rejuvenate the home with colors and murals,” Gordon said.

But what began as murals has now turned into a weekly art workshop at the home. Gordon says the boys will soon be opening their own art exhibition.

“It’s about using art for upliftment and inspiration, to really remind these boys that they are special,” he said.

Gordon is also hoping to attract more artists to the area.

He runs a residency and project space called, Word of Art, where he invites creatives from around the world to come and live in Woodstock and get involved in the community.

“It’s a very special situation that we have here for artists to live and work in Woodstock so they just feel free to explore the streets and have a discovery of South Africa, a real personal South African story,” he said.

While it’s unclear what the future holds for Woodstock, Gordon says he knows that gentrification is coming and he wants to be part of it.

“I’m not instigating it, I’m not the reason there is gentrification, but I can influence the gentrification for the better, with art, with sensitivity, with communication between communities,” he said.

Until then Gordon plans to continue bringing color and beauty to the run-down suburb.

“The nice thing about public art is, it actually translates into a language and people can be affected by it and respond to it and give their opinion, and usually their opinion is very positive,” he said.

“We make sure to make work that is sensitive and not offensive in any way, just colorful and vibrant. ”

Emily Wither contributed to this report.