Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Meet Terryanne Stevenson

Terryanne Stevenson has made a huge contribution to street art murals in Durban over the past 25 years. She was often to be seen working on scaffolding at various sites in our city, together with Durban artists like Thami Jali, Lalelani Mbhele and Joseph Manana.  Her reputation as a dynamic promoter of mural art was not confined to Durban: during her career she was invited to introduce this art form elsewhere in South Africa - in Soweto, Thohoyandou, Thembisa, and East London, and in many other cities.

Indeed, her knowledge of mural painting spread outside this country and in 1999 she was invited to speak on community art projects at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and in 2008 in Kirkbright in Scotland.
Her introduction to art was through her mother, a well known botanical artist who had trained in graphic art. At the age of seven Terryannne began to draw and was given a Christmas gift of a book on drawing and a box of paints and paper. She attended Girls’ High School in Pietermaritzburg where she was encouraged to develop her artistic talent. When the family moved to Durban Terryanne dropped out of school so that she could enroll in the five year Fine Art Diploma course at the Natal Technikon. There she was taught by brilliant art lecturers who were all well-known artists: they included Dick Leigh, Patrick O’Connor, Cliff Bestall and Gavin Younge.
After receiving her Fine Art Diploma in 1971 her first job was art teacher at Clifton Preparatory School, here, in Durban. She held this position until 1974 when she traveled to Ireland and worked there, concentrating on the arts and crafts of that country. This gave her a sound background when she returned to South Africa, first to run a silkscreen company as well as working in a number of small factories which produced art-related objects
From the age of 14 Terryanne had been well aware of the African Art Centre in Durban and of the work done by Jo Thorpe, the Director, in promoting the art and craft of Black, underprivileged artists. In 1987 she accepted a job working with Jo Thorpe at the Centre. Her training at the Natal Technikon enabled her to revitalize the Centre through exciting displays of paintings and graphics as well as exhibitions of sculpture, and art objects such as beaded works, made by local Durban artists and those from further out of town who were affiliated to the Centre. Working there also gave her the opportunity to meet all the artists supported by the Centre.
In 1990 Terryanne curated one of the most important exhibitions presented by the African Art Centre. This was the Vulamehlo show -literally meaning Open your Eyes - which opened at the Durban Art Gallery. The exhibition was no less than a Who’s Who of Black artists in Durban, both well- known and others, as yet, unknown. There were wonderful paintings, sculptures and prints on show; and biographical information about all the artists on the Vulamehlo exhibition was recorded in a catalogue compiled by Terryanne and which went on sale at the opening.
The big break in Terryanne’s career as a mural artist came in 1991 when Jo Thorpe introduced her to the Hebox textile factory at Hammersdale, just outside Durban. Terryanne worked there for ten days during which time she created a major biographical mural together with local artists from the area.
Following on her success at Hebox, Terryanne then went to the nearby Valley Trust, where she worked with young, black artists, mentoring these teenagers and encouraging them in their aspirations as artists. It was at the Valley Trust, too, that architect Paul Mikula asked Terryanne to create a large decorative mural for the health clinic there using pictures instead of words as the community was unable to read. This mural, she says, was really signage.
In 1991 Terryanne teamed up with Thami Jali, a Durban artist, and together they established Community Mural Projects, also working in collaboration with Menzi Mchunu They created more than 30 murals throughout South Africa. Venues were wide ranging, and included those in inner cities, on walls in stations, schools and hospitals and in spaces in far -flung rural areas.
In 1992 she received a commission through Professor David McQuoid-Mason (1), on behalf of Lawyers for Human Rights, to paint a mural on the walls of the old Central Prison, situated in the lower Durban City Centre She considers this mural to be a major work. Because of the fugitive quality of the paints used for the mural, it was repainted in 1997.
By 1996 she was working with Ilsa Mikula and to assist them financially they registered a Trust which, to this day, is still used to finance Terryanne’s art projects.
Between 1994 and 2010 Terryanne produced a number of murals the most significant and striking of which she says were the series of 25 mural paintings which focus on the Indigenous Stories of African Peoples. In her view these murals reclaimed ownership of stories told by the people about themselves.
Murals are highly visible art form, but since the colours used in many murals are generally fugitive, and therefore fade, visible traces of these works do not survive. What is really important, however, is that the knowledge of how to create large architectural murals is passed down through the artists themselves. Once colourful and striking community works are now mostly to be seen in documentary records usually in the form of photographs.
Terryanne’s first step in painting these murals was to train local participants in drawing and design and to encourage them to focus on creating images that reflected their own concerns and those of their communities. The next step was to set up the scaffolding for the artists to be able to draw with chalk on the wall. The final stage was painting the mural.
All the murals produced by Terryanne and the participating artists were received with much acclaim during her career: they were publicized through articles and interviews in local print media throughout the country and on radio and TV. .
Her most notable mural paintings are the following:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which 28 artists were involved in painting this mural which was declared a National Monument.
Beyond Boundaries which was painted for the South African Arts Biennale, Newtown, Johannesburg
Nomkhubulwana, Berea Station, Durban which was commissioned by Durban Arts and BAT (2)
Through mural painting Terryanne created jobs for artists throughout South Africa. The knowledge gained by artists working with her has been passed down for future artists to use: indeed, she says with pride, that to this day, artists both here and in other parts of the country frequently come up to her to thank her for the artistic skills she taught them and which enabled them to support themselves through their art.
(1) Former Head of the Law School at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
(2) Bartel Arts Trust, Durban

Jill Addleson