Split facades: photographing Joburg’s inner city

Too many stories – so little time. But couldn’t leave out that on Thursday night I was at the opening of Split Facades at Goethe on Main, a debut photographic exhibition by Kutlwano Moagi, curated by a friend Thato Mogotsi. Having read Lin Sampson’s take on art openings “The Cringe Crowd” in Sunday Times (and laughed all the way through it)  I am still trying to figure out which kind of  art-opening hanger-on I am.

Boloba Fashion Store, corner Jeppe and Von Brandis, JHB CBD by Kutlwano Moagi

Besides for being their to support a friend I share the photographer’s compulsion to bear witness to the moods of the city of Joburg. Moagi’s photographs are evocative, capturing the city’s streets, and the pull between its past, present and future as a “world-class African city”. Speaking at the opening, Mogotsi mentioned “African urbanism” and suggested that there is a question whether gentrification can be applied to these spaces.

Palisade fence surrounding the Joburg Art Gallery, Noord Street by Kutlwano Moagi

I agree with Mogotsi that “a lot gets lost in the formal reconstruction of the city. A lot of stories fall away”. But for me it’s a question not so much of gentrification but of the need for the city to make interventions that create a liveable city for all who call it home. This has been much on mind, seeing as how cities don’t by nature cater to the economically disadvantaged despite being a magnet for their aspirations. It was also on my mind as I drove across Queen Elizabeth bridge that evening en route to Arts on Main and watched as rats the size of rabbits crawled over a burnt out rubbish heap (and my skin) near Bree Street.

The Fifth Floor, JHB CBD by Kutlwano Moagi

The exhibition is all black and white photos of Joburg’s centre from interesting perspectives, behind unexpected fences and walls, with juxtapositions of buildings and people, and images and words all jostling for centre spot. Some upholstered taxi seating offers a view from inside a taxi as you watch a video of the city streets flashing by (filmed inside a taxi) and listen to the running  commentary of a Joburg minibus taxi driver. A “personal, and often aggressive engagement for those living and traveling informally in the city,” said Mogotsi.

The exhibition is on until the 26th of February. Take a seat. Enjoy the ride.


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