Mabo­neng tack­les our emer­gen­cies

Sowetan - - TIME OUT - Shoks Mnisi-Mzolo Mabo, Fu­tures, Think Global Ul­tra­con­tem­po­rary Per­fect Or­lando Love.

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

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