“unless you’re sitting in your garage building google or some shit.” – Falko One
Craig Cupido, otherwise known as South African graffiti pioneer Falko One, has released a behind-the-scenes documentary which reveals details about Once Upon a A Town – his ongoing social art project. In collaboration with Redbull, Cupido set out on a journey to visit six small, lesser-known towns in South Africa. Starting in the Western Cape, passing through the Eastern Cape and moving up to the Kalahari, Cupido’s journey was endowed with the intentions of “[getting] to know the real South Africa” by sharing art with people that can’t usually afford art as a luxury.
Having first come across the work of Falko One through my fascination with graffiti and street art in grade 10 high school art classes, I saw these vivid depictions and interpretations of animals and characters as a true extension of the imagination. It was as if the artwork gave an alternative feel and perspective to the immediate environment while that very artwork was moulded by the surrounds – a sort of artistic spatial symbiosis.
I came to appreciate being able to escape into an alternate world for a mere moment. A world of everyday scenery mixed in with characters and animals reminiscent of a playful and vivid children’s book or psychedelic cartoon. Until this day, I often find myself admiring his work over social media as a break from the monotony of every day life.
Yet, it’s with Once Upon A Town that Cupido showcases his humble ability to push his art and mind beyond aesthetic and conceptual realms and into contact with communities of small towns – what he calls the “backbone of the country” – with the simple goal of leaving something positive behind.
Cupido’s intentions went beyond painting concrete walls of homes, iron laden shacks and odd desolated buildings. He sought to highlight how the art affects the people and how the people inspire the artist – all while uniting communities in the spaces they share, despite their social and economic dynamics.
It was already in the first town he visited, Riebeek-Wes, that Cupido found the purpose and experienced the impact of what he was doing:
It was that the perception of value started changing.
People saw a different value to what their house was. Because now, people who usually don’t come to the area were now starting to take photos of it and people passing by were commenting on it.
I know there are artists who will come in and they’ll be like, “We want to paint, it’s art.” Blah, blah. I come in and I respect what there is. I want them to like it and I don’t want to force my artwork on them.
Craig Cupido (Falko One)
Faced with the daunting task of immersing himself in other communities’ ways of life, Cupido’s approach to painting was laced with subliminal messages of social upliftment and fantasy, attempting to make it as unfamiliar as possible. Accompanied every step of the way by social documentary photographer Luke Daniel, they tried to encapture others in the barrier-breaking and universal nature of art, “for it speaks where language doesn’t,” Daniel said. Further expressing his inspiration for creating images of Once Upon A Town as, “[defining] the connection between the art itself and the place, town, people and stories that are there”.
It’s a hard lifestyle. It’s a hard existence and survival for people in rural communities. But I think “Once Upon a Town” coming in was something different. It was a change of scenery.
It changes their perception as well as ours.
We get a greater understanding of South Africa, they do of street art, which we bring to the table. So there’s an exchange of energy.
And I think that act is uplifting.
I truly urge you to watch the 28-minute documentary HERE.
Images by Luke Daniel for the Redbull content pool. Visit Once Upon a Town for more.