“Our wish for Princess Vlei is that if anyone has bad intentions, bad dreams and bad wishes for this area that those dream catchers will catch those and only let through the good vibes.”
The project was the dream child of Cape Town artist and activist Paul Hendricks and three long standing colleagues – Ayesha Price, Berenice Carlese-Plato and Lies Hartman, the principals of The Children’s Art Centre (Zonnebloem), the Frank Joubert Art Centre (Claremont) and the Battswood Art Centre (Grassy Park) respectively. The three art schools between them service several thousand children from schools in surrounding areas. Most of these schools have limited or no art programmes of their own.
These groups came together in their first-ever collaborative project to create dream catchers to hang in the trees of Princess Vlei. Each college made one giant dream catcher about 2 metres in diameter, and the children also made individual smaller ones. In the words of Ayesha Price, “The idea of a precious cultural space such as Princess Vlei being built on is sacrilegious, and we wanted to do something to show how much we value it. We also want to show the children that art is not just something you hang in a room, it is powerful and can carry a strong message.”
For the children of Battswood College, the dream catcher project is one of several art projects inspired by the Princess Vlei, including collages, mixed media, paintings and clay. “Most od our learners come from sub-economic urban environments where there is not much visual and textual variety. Few of them have the opportunity even to travel to Table Mountain or other natural areas. Princess Vlei offers them a unique resource, as it has a variety of natural textures and colours. It also has a rich mythological and cultural heritage. Projects such as this can build the children’s social awareness and awareness of their environment. It brings art alive, and helps the children to realise that art has a voice beyond the classroom.
The first part of the morning was spent attaching the giant dream catchers to the trees alongside Prince George drive. The artworks are made of biodegradable material such as wood and hessian, and decorated with lentils, seeds, palm fronds, and natural dyes. This ensures that as the dream catchers naturally disintegrate over time, they will leave no footprints. Passing motorists hooted and shouted encouragement as the dream catchers went up.
The children then hung the smaller dream catchers in trees around the vlei, before enjoying refreshments donated by Menngos, a local business promoting small enterprise in the area.
The formal part of the proceedings began with a speech by young Savio Simonpong 12) from Sid G Rule Primary. He said that he’d been motivated to learn more about Princess Veli after hearing his parents and teachers talk, and had read the articles about the schoolchildren planting trees on arbour day in the People’s Post. “I actually fell in love with the with caption in the paper, “greening the vlei.” He said
“It’s really good to see our youth of today showing and interest in saving our planet and preserving the vlei for future generations. The children need to learn. We hope they can spread the message to their friends so that they can love nature…. We say yes to the princess, we say no to the mall.”
The group was then entertained by the choir from Sid G Rule Primary (Grassy Park), who sang “We are the world.”
The three principals of the college spoke next, and all commented on what a positive experience the project had been for both teachers and learners.
“A process such as this teaches you about awareness of the community, your place in the community, and it teaches you how to enjoy arts in a creative way in a natural environment, it teaches you camaraderie and team spirit … It was very lovely to see all of that unpack in the classroom with so many different bodies working together to create one final art piece...” said Berenice Carlese-Plato.
Liesl Hartman commented, “Dream catchers are symbols of things that catch thoughts and dreams and beautiful things and filter good things from bad… we wanted to create three artworks that would inhabit the environment but not overpower it, that with time would wear away and become part of the environment.”
Ayesha Price said, “When my class heard that a building made of concrete, glass and steel was going to be planted into a natural environment, the first thing they said was, “Miss Price we must fight this thing, we must go in there” … we have discovered that using art as our voice and as our weapon, perhaps we can overcome and achieve much more than we can perhaps with just our voices and our fists.”
She reminded the audience that the Princess Vlei links us to the First Nations, who had much to teach us about living in harmony with the earth and protecting it.
Paul Hendricks spoke about the importance of dreams. “This is a dream we must carry with us all the time, the dream that Princess Vlei becomes a symbol of hope for the future for you and for all the other people in the area.”
Glen van Harte from the Western Cape Education Department remarked that “it is very important that we understand what is going on in our environment, so that when there are people who try to harm that environment, we will stand up for our environment... Today is not just a visit to a big lake, it’s about making sure that you have a space that one day you can take your children and show them what a beautiful environment this is.”
Mr Philip Bam, chair of the Lotus River and Grass Park residents association and of the Princess Vlei Forum spoke about the value of holding dreams for the Princess Vlei.
“The vlei is more than the water, the vlei is more than the vegetation around it, the vlei has a soul. And it gives expression to our souls, and to what we believe in ... so continue to dream of those things that will make you great, and believe me the BMW is not what is going to make you great, it is not the bank balance that makes you great... what makes a nation great is when we respect the earth, when we care for it and protect it, and even when we say that we will die to defend it.”
Nazeer Sonday of the PVF spoke of how today we can use vehicles such as art to express our protest, not stones and fists, and of how this action gives a vision of a Princess Vlei where culture and art can be freely expressed. “The dreamcatchers are beautiful… each on is not just a piece of art hanging from a tree, it has life, it tells a story, it reflects what is in our hearts...The princess is alive and she is so happy that you are all here and trying to protect her dignity and honour. Your work here this morning has deep meaning for all of us. “
He said he looked forward to further collaborations between the three colleges and the Princess Vlei Forum, so “That we can have more art pieces on the sacred soil of our vlei, so that we can jointly promote the arts and culture on the Cape Flats and expose and display the amazing talents that we have in you and in our community.”
As the buses pulled away, the dream catchers fluttered and swayed in the wind, eloquently expressing the dreams of these remarkable young artists. Let us hope that these dreams to protect and conserve this beautiful space will not be decimated and destroyed by the proposed mall. The children of Cape Town have much to teach our officials about the true value of our natural open spaces
About the participating Art Schools
Co-ordinator of the Princess Vlei art project: Paul Hendriks email@example.com>
The Battswood Art Centre, 5th Avenue, Grassy Park
Contact: Berenice Carlese-Plato firstname.lastname@example.org
The Battswood Arts Centre covers various disciplines, including visual arts, dance and drama. It works with 15 primary schools and 2 high schools in the surrounding areas, and has undertaken a number of projects linked to Princess Vlei.
The Children’s Art Centre, Zonnebloem
Contact: Ayesha Price (Principal) email@example.com
The Children's Art Centre has been in existence since 1945. It services 2300 children from six schools. It provides a range of extracurricular art programmes for the children, as well as assistance to the schools with specific projects such as building stage sets etc. It provides teacher training workshops and outreach programmes.
Frank Joubert Art Centre, Palmyra Road, Claremont
Contact: Liesl Hartman, (Principal) firstname.lastname@example.org
Frank Joubert Art Centre is attended by learners from over 30 schools, and has a number of extra mural and community outreach art programmes. It has been working with Grade 8 and 9 learners from South Peninsula high on the Princess Vlei project.