Ricky Lee Gordon: 2011 AHN Awardee

"Color creates energy, energy creates inspiration and inspiration creates change. It is our responsibility to inspire ourselves to inspire others to inspire the change.

Art is the remedy for this." -Ricky Lee Gordon


Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2011 AHN Awards to artist and curator Ricky Lee Gordon. We at the Arts & Healing Network are so impressed by his incredible creative vision in using art  to revitalize and transform his neighborhood of Woodstock in Capetown, South Africa. We are so impressed that at such a young age, he possesses such clarity about his direction as an artist and we applaud his immense talent and leadership. 

Ricky Lee is a muralist and artist who goes by the name of Freddy Sam. In addition, he is the founder of three initiatives. The first is Write On Africa, a community art and inspiration project, in which they create murals and workshops in poor communities to uplift and inspire social change. Their philosophy is, "Inspire ourselves to inspire others to inspire change." The second project he founded and directs is A Word of Art which includes an art space, art projects and an international art residency program, dedicated to celebrating new art and emerging young artists. The third is the Woodstock Industrial Center, a derelict industrial building in the heart of Woodstock, where together with a willing landlord he has now brought in over 75 creative tenants. The building now has a coffee shop, skate park and bookshop, and hosts talks, exhibitions, movie nights, dinners and drawing evenings.

To learn more about Ricky Lee's outstanding work, please visit his web sites at www.writeonafrica.org and www.freddysam.com. Be sure to watch the CNN video on the home page of www.writeonafrica.com to get a flavor for Ricky Lee's impact on his local town in South Africa.

Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Ricky Lee Gordon from November 2011:

Mary Daniel Hobson: You are doing such transformational creative work at such a young age - how did you find your way to this path so soon? What supported and inspired you to get to where you are today?


Ricky Lee Gordon: When I was young I was a very talented sportsman. My mom was an art teacher. I had talent but was not interested in art. I thought it was for all the "smart teacher's pet girls," but my mom used to tell me and her students "art is inside everyone Ė itís up to you to bring it out."  I believe in this -- the Peter Pan philosophy of how we all forget how to fly at some point. We are born to push and pull move, explore and create. Itís just our nature to be creative, so itís very important for us to release this.


When I was 16 years old, I found graffiti art and fell in love with a girl. This changed everything. I became more in-tune with my emotions and with my inside creative. In fact I stopped playing sports and focused 100% of my time on making art, and pursued it (and her) throughout highschool (haha), resulting in the highest art mark for Matric in South Africa for that year. It was the first time I had accomplished anything big like that. As with team sports itís never really your instinct or your drive alone that creates the result, and I loved that about art. The self reflection, the self awarenessÖthat really helped me grow and continues too. I believe life and art is about practice, learning from the world, traveling, experiencing, and mostly looking within and learning from yourself and humbling yourself to allow for growth. This is the true artist.


Mary Daniel: Do you believe artmaking can be a catalyst for healing and positive change and if so, how?


Ricky Lee: Yes, I more then believe it. I live it, see it and feel it everyday. Color creates energy, energy creates inspiration and inspiration creates change. It is our responsibility to inspire ourselves to inspire others to inspire the change. Art is the remedy for this. 


Mary Daniel: Please talk a little bit about your work with the shelter for boys and how you are using artwork with them...and the impression it is having on them.


Ricky Lee: Well we first started off by painting 10 murals over the course of one week. All the artists became friends with the boys, and Juma and Willard who work with me just started going back every week teaching them art. I didnít even know they were doing it until later. (Juma and Willard are truly my biggest inspiration see more about them here) well the kids were responding so well to the classes and even more so to Juma and Willard as mentors, so I approached the sponsor to fund one year of art classes where Juma and Willard could actually get paid to run a class every week. Itís my dream to find 5 more sponsors like this. More than this being good for the boys, this is also an incredible experience and opportunity for Juma and Willard as they are quite brilliant at it, and thatís an amazing quality in a person - to be able to teach and mentor with patience and love. So itís my dream to find 5 more sponsors so that we can run an art class everyday with a different group, school, orphanage, community etc.


Mary Daniel: What has been the impact of all this artmaking on your neighborhood and community? Could you share a story of neighborhood transformation and inspiration?


Ricky Lee: The community is very supportive of the murals. When Iím working in the streets, Iím involved in quite a beautiful dialogue, with always new and old friends, and always interesting conversations. I think this is important. When I was 16, I painted my first street mural on the outskirts of the Alexandra Township. As a young white South African I was exposed to something none of my peers were, and it was simply because I was interacting on the street level listening and communicating though my art. This changed me forever! Public space is essential to an inspired community, and when our public space is grey it is reflective of our society. We need colour. We need energy. I have a quote I painted once, "Removing the greyness from the soul of the city is the job of musicians, artists and poets."


Mary Daniel: What excites you most about the work you are doing right now?


Ricky Lee: Collaboration, cultural exchange and storytelling, These are the outcomes of my new international artist-in-residency program, I just love how really connected we are as one big global family. We all hurt, and we all love and we all create. Itís just really beautiful to be able to share this "space" through dialogue and collaboration. Therefore I have created a platform to instigate this. It really excites me, and I am passionate about growing it. The artists arrive here with open eyes, open minds and open hearts ready to get involved with our outreach projects and create art with a substance and purpose, I think there is too much art in the world with no purpose Ė only just a valued commodity. I think itís about time we talked about this.


Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for others who would like to make art that makes a difference in the world?


Ricky Lee: My advice would be "Go make art that makes a difference in the world !! Please!Ē


Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?


Ricky Lee: Just thank you thank you for this prize and more so the acknowledgement. Itís not easy dealing with everything I deal with and sometimes you feel like giving up and retreating to your studio to make art for your own well being and sanity -- not to rely or care for anything or anyone. But we know this is not the way.

In South Africa there is saying called "UBUNTU."  Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality Ė Ubuntu Ė you are known for your generosity. Tim Jackson refers to Ubuntu as a philosophy that supports the changes he says are necessary to create a future that is economically and environmentally sustainable. Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows: A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?



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