Be Kind, they say. They’re the first in what David Masinter hopes will ultimately be a series of 18 art installations around Johannesburg.
It’s a project to break the spiral of negativity – particularly in the City of Gold.
“I’m tired of people saying this is a crime city, that there’s nothing worth celebrating. I want to motivate them to think differently, but most of all just to be kind.”
The artwork follows a poster board campaign that ran for three months last year, being suspended over December and January, and which will restart in February.
The campaign, stark in its simplicity, merely injunctions to drivers and passers-by: “Tell someone They Look Great” read one; “Just Be Kind” instructed another; “Complain Less , Smile More”, “Make Someone A Coffee” and even, “Call Your Mom”.
“We are just trying to bring the art of kindness to Johannesburg,” says the Chabad House Rabbi who was the architect of Acts of Random Kindness, the little yellow plastic arks that have been distributed to Johannesburgers for the last five years for them to fill up with unwanted change and given randomly to those in need.
Masinter is a firm believer in the overwhelming humanity and compassion of people – especially South Africans.
“There’s a teaching,” he says, “that if someone does bad, speaks it or even thinks it, a negative energy is created. On the other hand, if one does good, speaks good, a positive energy is created.”
So far, 700 000 arks have been distributed since 2014, with Masinter’s goal being a million.
Added to that, 140 000 underprivileged children have benefited from the parallel Chabad House literacy programme that establishes township libraries and trains teachers. The art project and the billboard campaign hope to build on this.
“We’re not selling anything. We’re only advertising kindness,” he says.
“All we are hoping to accomplish is to foster an increase in acts of goodness and kindness in our city and beyond – and, by doing that, change the world for good.”