Step inside the Ahem! Art Collective coffee shop and gallery on Observatory’s Lower Main Road, and you’ll immediately be drawn to the walls. That’s because they’re adorned with remarkable illustrations and animations you’re unlikely to see anywhere else in the city.
The Cape Town suburb of Observatory has in many ways flown beneath the radar on the tourist scene. Large parts of the suburb have also fallen into disrepair. Yet locals, predominantly students, artists, professional loafers, and young professionals, know and love Obs for its laid back bohemian atmosphere, quirky restaurants and coffee shops, and strong community spirit. Many outsiders tend to dismiss it as an off-beat destination only worth visiting if you have a very specific reason. But one new gallery and cafe aims to change all of that.
Ahem! Art Collective is looking to tap into Observatory’s rough-around-the-edges creative spirit with an exciting new art gallery and coffee shop space. The concept is based on London’s The Illustration Cupboard and has a very distinct social message. As an art teacher, owner Barbara Langridge is passionate about nurturing and developing talent. When the founder discovered that there was nothing quite like The Illustration Cupboard back home in Cape Town, she set about creating it from scratch together with curator Thea de Klerk.
Ahem! Art Collective is about more than just a comfortable space filled with intriguing works. According to Langridge, her work “involves trying to change the space around us on Lower Main Road, that is to uplift a decayed area through art.” She recently put an art installation on the wall of the infamous Observatory “Trump Towers” to take art to the street and passers by. Unfortunately one of the pieces was stolen overnight.
Ahem also offers a platform to a category of artists often marginalised by the mainstream industry in Cape Town. According to Langridge, the art scene in Cape Town makes it difficult for “non-fine art” illustrators to display their work, forcing many to retreat to the online world. Many animators also work in large creative teams, and seldom receive individual recognition for their works. Rectifying these two issues is at the core of their operation.
Most of the work on display is local, from artists like Ree Treweek, Thea Nicole de Klerk, and Joh Del, who sweat over artwork for big corporations or who simply create art for the love of it. But increasingly there’s also an international presence creeping in to the gallery. Russian Aleksandr Petrov, New Zealander Greg Broadmore and Nigerian John Olubunmi have all featured their artwork in the gallery.
The gallery aims to showcase some of the best artists in the genre, and to break down the stigma that often surrounds illustrators and animators. It’s turning the local scene on its head for the artists, and providing visitors a thought-provoking and engaging space in which to have an all day breakfast and a pretty solid cup of coffee. And when you consider everything that the suburb of Observatory stands for, this little gallery with a big heart is the perfect fit.