Maboneng tackles our emergencies
HEADING eastwards to the fringes of Jozi’s inner city jolts visitors to the state of affairs.
The stench of poverty is unmistakable. Machinery roars at some factories across Albertina Sisulu Road, opposite Maboneng Precint on a wintry Saturday afternoon.
Down the road, posters of smugly smiling politicians pockmark Maboneng’s walls. Looking on is the iconic Madiba, immortalised in a huge Shadow Boxer mural that spans eight storeys.
For its part, Maboneng, Sesotho and Setswana for “place of lights” as the green writing on the wall along Albertina Sisulu declares, is a canvas of SA’s trends.
Bohemians are at home in this scene as are the academics, executives, political animals and creative types. It’s a heady mix.
As if to stress Maboneng’s cosmopolitanism, accents and divine aromas permeate the precinct.
Restaurant menus, mostly delightful, are as eclectic.
The same goes for the many, classy but not pretentious or exorbitant clothing spots along the way.
I am here to warm my soul by sampling arts and culture.
After stopping by at a welcoming Pata Pata – a Sophiatown-style eatery where patrons feast on good food, and in the evening, Friendly Drummers’ live marimba music – I head to the Bioscope on Fox Street.
My mission is to “discover the oldest living cultural history in the world”, thanks to the Australian High Commission which in June brought the country’s “first voices across Africa” (or, in fact, SA and four other countries).
a tribute to the struggle of a tireless Eddie Koiki Mabo and his once landless indigenous community of Torres Island, is spot on.
Walking back to the Museum of African Design (Moad), I get a feeling that, instead of celebrating the indigenous people, many works in the Black Screen line-up either exhibit patronising attitudes or do no more than project dark-skinned Australians as the “other”.
More than 100 artworks adorn the walls (and floors) of this twostorey Moad which, in its past life, was a gearbox clinic.
Opened in 2013, the museum – on the corner of Commissioner and Albrecht streets – previously hosted Algeria’s D’Zair Art and Craft and will next month open its doors to and, from September to December,
a solo show by Togolese artist Kossi Aguessy. Unlike ordinary exhibitions,
rewrites the rules. Instead of relying on the past, this high-quality format jolts visitors back to the state of affairs.
Contributions by 30 foreign and local artists tackle the many, but often-ignored, emergencies: bigotry, poverty, “trophy hunting”, violence and more. The twist is that the works, a social commentary, were created and exhibited on the same day in an “emergency room”.
This format transformed the 4 000m² museum into a site of captivating debates – a lovely break from predictable, tired, talk radio.
Artists touch on difficulties people face every day. “Not everything you see here gets media attention, but they’re all emergencies,” says Tijana Miškovic, curator of the exhibition and director of Copenhagen Ultracontemporary Biennale, the hosts. “When last did you read about poverty in South Africa? It’s an emergency and in the minds of ordinary people, but not in newspapers. These are things that ordinary people, even kids, consider to be burning issues.”
Awake to that reality, Io Makandal uses props (maize meal, sugar, white bread) to tackle food security.
Against this background, another artist’s take of a man peeing on bread derides the uncaring tendencies of the wealthy amid widespread, but hidden famine.
I stare at Mumbi’s “self portrait”, an ape sculpture, that’s been changing since last week. I ponder its meaning.
Then racist Penny Sparrow comes to mind.
The now-suspended Judge Mabel Jansen, whose bigoted diatribe would delight Hendrik Verwoerd types, features in Michelle Eistrup’s canvas about panAfricanism while Nadia Plesner, a fellow Danish artist, addresses homophobia through
Her work, 49 pride-coloured rolls (denoting the number of people gunned down), reflects the tragedy that left 53 people injured at Pulse, a gay nightclub, in the US.
Local politicians whose tales grab artists’ imagination, are President Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema.
The SABC, a tragic soapie, doesn’t escape artists’ interpretation. Depictions of Helen Zille, Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas – given the state-capture narrative – bring us to the now: ultra-contemporary.
Miškovic guesses it’s the first time that SA has hosted an emergency exhibition that has gone to a taxi rank (Noord Street).
Despite its ultra-contemporary touch or social commentary, this show isn’t low on merit.
That it’s in Maboneng, rather than the glossy north, broadens access. That too is an emergency, contends Thierry Geoffroy, whose works feature scribbled cardboard pieces, birthed the concept 25 years ago, as a one-man act before expanding it to include fellow artists in 2000.
With the sun having taken a bow, like my art quotient, I hit the road.
AROMATIC HUB: Pata Pata, a Sophiatown-style eatery where patrons feast on food while listening to live bands performing nearby
TRENDSETTER: The African museum showcases Africa’s past and present creativity