Forced to slow down… making art in traffic jams.

How do you react when circumstances force you to slow down from the ridiculous expected modern pace of living.  When non-stop multi-tasking and high-speed driving lead you to a place where you are forced into a corner in the traffic that you can not escape from.

You may get into a panic about being late, missing your appointment, and how this delay will impact all the things you still have to do. You may see in your misery, the concertina’d crunch of work and stress you are going to have to endure as a consequence of this delay. Or on the other hand, you may begin by sighing a sigh of relief.  At last a chance to pause, breathe, feel the wind on your skin, taste the salt in the air, listen to the passing cry of a seagull.  You are officially delayed.  You have no control.  This is a situation where there is no escape, you simply have to stop.  There is the past- the place you left behind, and there is the future: your destination, but now, you have no choice but to be present in an uncomfortable now.  What are you going to do with it?

The roadworks on the scenic main road between Muizenberg and Fishoek have been forcing commuters into this position since 2012. The coastal road is 200 years old.  Over the years, the pace has increased from one and two horsepower to an estimated 19 000 vehicles daily . In September 2012 a project to upgrade and maintain the road and drainage system began. A stop- go- system was set up for stages of the road works- forcing motorists to endure multiple stops of between 5 and 20 minutes at a time. As the project continues until the end of 2017, people have been forced to adapt to the snail pace required.

I believe the situation in the South side of the peninsular is a metaphor for of a lot of things, especially as 2012 was the year that we were warned would bring big changes, possibly even an end to life as we know it.  Some scoffed at this.  Apart from the obvious need for maintenance, the roadworks are part of an effort the City of Cape Town is being forced to adapt to the warnings of high tides and extreme flooding, population increases due to migration and mass development.  It is essential to adapt or we will die, that is the law of evolution.  Although the adapting could not take the form of much expansion in this case. The challenge is that  the road is between the mountain and the sea and there is no space to grow and in some places no possible detours on the route, all they have been able to do is strengthen and improve things to bare the weight of all the traffic and improve the drainage to avert the possibility of flooding.  So to our inconvenience we have been forced to slow down.  Live a slower life or bite our nails in frustration. I guess if one looks at the possibility of extreme flooding and the consequences of that, one might get some perspective on why it is less inconvenient to be caught in the roadworks traffic, than to be swept away or stuck on a flooded road when the water rises.

As the situation intensifies, becomes more crowded, the weather more extreme, city dwellers may be forced  to slow down in various ways or be overcome, overwhelmed or even burn out. (We have to beware of “burn out”- adrenal burnout is an epidemic of the modern age, one that is not as easy to recover from as one might think.)

A rainy day in St. James. The 20 minute wait.

Responses to being trapped in the traffic vary, but most commuters find it very challenging  on the psyche. Being a victim of the stopped flow can cause huge frustration and anxiety. Over time, some locals found ways to cope with the forced pause and utilize it in some way.  This is a form of survival: adapting to circumstances, so to speak.

Artist Sue Beattie took to carrying a sketchpad, pencils water colours, (and a small water bottle) and brush in the side pocket of her car door. Every time she was held up by the road works, it would be an opportunity for a picture. On occasion she found she had landed in the same place more than once, this allowed her add detail to an earlier work. Other times she created ambient impressions in the space and time allowed.

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Sue’s beautiful drawings and paintings, made during pauses in the traffic along the road, are the subject of an exhibition taking place at her Mosaic Studio in Palmer Street Muizenberg behind Joon Restaurant. It is part of the Muizenberg Festival, which takes place this week. The exhibition can be viewed on Saturday and Sunday the 15th and 16th of October.  Mosaics will also be on display in the garden of Joon’s resaurant.

Sue finishes off the grouting on some pots. This bench is to be seen in the back yard of Joon Restaurant in Palmer street, Muizenberg.  

Sue Beattie works as a professional illustrator and mosaic artist and is responsible for the fish mosaic project, a community initiative, which has left its mark on many of the buildings in the Muizenberg village, now decorated with mosaic fishes, swimming towards the sea.

Local musicians of Muizenberg Guy Collins and Jamie Jupiter pose with a fish mosaic.

Sue Beattie also runs a free book give away between 2-30 and 4pm every Tuesday at number 31 Albertyn Road. This is a way of making literature accessible to those who would not otherwise have access to it. Her home is near the station, and she gives away second hand books that would otherwise be pulped.  Caring for community and uplifting others less fortunate than herself is a way of life for Sue, who creates colour and beauty around her at every opportunity.  A good way to thrive during these stressful times: creating beauty and hope and reading old stories which are filled with both.

Contact Sue Beattie for more information at: 021 7861670 or 08340605222

Or email her at

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