Situated on the buzzing Lower Main Road in Observatory, Cape Town, Ahem! Art Collective is a homely art gallery-cum-coffee shop whose walls celebrate the work of incredible, yet mostly unknown, animators. It is run by Barbara Langridge, an art teacher at the forefront of the neighbourhood’s creative scene.
She relocated to South Africa from Zimbabwe a decade ago. Since then she has spearheaded small upliftment initiatives through art that eventually culminated in Ahem! Art Collective café opening its doors earlier this year.
“The idea behind this place is to engage with artists overseas and to grow the animation community in South Africa,” says Langridge, “I want to create a platform for non-‘fine artists’, because most of the South African art world doesn’t consider any one of these animators to have collectable skill. But when you look at their work, you realise there is a huge amount of skill here.”
The art on display varies from illustrations of quirky character models to densely-textured science fiction backdrops and otherworldly scenes. These are bits and pieces from footsoldiers of major animation houses, whose work is often sidelined on the cutting room floor or go uncredited in the applause and ceremony that surrounds major film directors.
The first international artist who came on board is Aleksandr Petrov, an award-winning Russian animator who is known for motion picture illustrations made with glass slides. Other animators include
Ulysse Malassagne of France, Greg Broadmore of New Zealand and John Olubunmi of Nigeria. The artworks of Nausicaa Giraud (the namesake of iconic Studio Ghibli film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) is also available.
Capetonians are also represented through the whimsical artworks of Ree Treweek, curator Thea Nicole de Klerk, Joh Del and Dan Hugo on display, among others.
“Our dream is to bring artists like Aleksandr Petrov to Cape Town and host evenings where we can promote these creative individuals and give other people the opportunity to experience hands-on insights from international animators,” says Langridge.
Illustrator and co-founder of Tulips and Chimneys studio, Treweek believes a place like Ahem! is essential in shifting the public's perception of the art than animators create.
"In countries such as Canada and France where animation is a developed and recognised artform, there is no such stigma, only admiration. I feel that as the industry in South Africa continues to grow and the public is made aware of the skills and processes of these artists, there will be a change in perception as to how the artwork is seen. A gallery such as Ahem! Art Collective is vital in creating this awareness. The fact that renowned international artists are exhibiting alongside local artists is great for the animation industry as a whole."