The first Joburg Winter Sculpture Fair, was held at Nirox in the Cradle of Humankind on the weekend of May 4-5. A two-day Fair organised by Artlogic, the makers of the Joburg Art Fair and Food Wine Design, it was a supreme event. Perfect winter sunshine, winemakers and chefs imported from Franschhoek and a really superb sculpture exhibition in the extraordinary landscape that is Nirox.
It takes a foreign sensibility to see Joburg’s suburban streets with new eyes. And I highly recommend it. On Friday morning we joined artists Susanne Kudielka and Kaspar Wimberley for a walk through Parkwood. Not your average walk, as we were encased in a cardboard Volkswagen Citi Golf. The two Stuttgart-based artists have been working as “artists-in-residence” at the Goethe-Institut for the past six weeks. They arrived in Joburg intending to look at the theme of security.
From beaded guard dogs to the fake ivy that doubles up as vicious spikes on suburb walls, they spent their time taking in the many ways and aesthetics in which people in this city protect their homes from outside invasion. Whether the threat is real or imagined…
So there I was travelling the highways and byways of the city in a big red open-top double decker bus, making good on Alain de Boton’s declaration that “The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” I felt like a tourist, even without the uniform of sandals-and-socks and a giant Nikon camera, or its modern incarnation that involves pointing an iPad at some unfortunate local.
After a two month hiatus spent in my study (and a number of free WIFI-enabled coffee shops across the city including my current favourite Warm & Glad, on 357 Jan Smuts Avenue) finishing my M.A. dissertation, I have been released to feast on the city. Oh how I have missed that. On Saturday we took a walk with Bongani Mathebula from MainStreetWalks to view the murals that form part of the IARTJOBURG project, a brilliant initiative by Ricky Lee Gordon of /and people (love their work), adidas Originals and Plascon.
Here’s the story…
If you go down to Doornfontein today you are in for a big surprise. Look up along Sivewright Avenue as you travel in the direction of Yeoville and there hanging on the wall of an otherwise ordinary commercial face brick block is an elephant, a rhinoceros, a giraffe and three other wild creatures. They appear to be lying across the reinforced concrete beams, their limbs hang limply, and their eyes are closed. Asleep, or extinct, the artist has left it up to you to decide.
Sunday morning in Maboneng – Joburg’s hipster haven on the east side of the city. Urban regeneration comes in the form of a peanut, banana, date and soya milk smoothie. Maboneng has arrived. What could have been a fantasy is now a high-priced and much in demand reality.
And outside Uncle Merv’s shake shack our little crew is getting bigger. It could be the start of a joke… One editor, one photographer, one blogger and two tour guides meet over a smoothie to wait for Rasty…
Much like the kid in that movie Australia (although I could never claim to be that cute; and in my defence I watched it on a plane and it convinced me of the effects of altitude on cultivating one’s taste for schmaltzy movies) I too enjoy going walkabout. Never more so than in my own city. So Wednesday was a treat. A chance to walk across the inner city with the Johannesburg Development Agency team. The occasion was the opening of nominations for the 2012 Halala Awards.
The Awards are in their fifth year and they recognise the people and projects that are making the sometimes neglected, and often maligned inner city the place to be. Sharon Lewis, Executive Manager for Planning and Strategy, spoke about investment being a key driver in the realization of the vision of Joburg as a world-class city. She mentioned an impact study conducted that found “for every R1-million invested in the city by the city, the public sector responded with R19-million”. These are critical partnerships.
Like all true love stories this one has moments of exhilaration, and of defeat. In pursuit of a romantic ideal one must be prepared as much for pure joy as for its opposite.
Along Bezuidenhout street, where it meets Viljoen in the park below Troyeville ridge is a bed. Its plush studded headboard is the stuff that Joburg migrant dreams are made of, Beares catalogues and lay-byes. Its pillows have the texture of velvet and on it lays a duvet, creased as if the bed’s occupants had just arisen from their slumber.
The bed is inviting.
On the morning I visit two birds are using the folds of the duvet as a birdbath. The park is green, the bed resting in peaceful shade.
I am trying to work out the hierarchy of Joburg’s street people, prompted by my ongoing fascination with who is outside my car window. This is Joburg and the cast is carnivalesque, a constant reminder that no matter your state of privilege there is no getting away from poverty. If you have a car, there you are cocooned in your own thoughts, listening to the radio or occupied by a cellphone call and thinking it’s a private moment when a knock on the window calls attention to a man draped in cellphone chargers, or holding a large box of fruit that you don’t eat or wielding a soapy-filled water bottle and a squeegee and hellbent on cleaning your windscreen (in the North it’s Grayston Drive offramp, in the east it’s the corner next to Eastgate Mall) milliseconds before the traffic light changes. (In my hierarchy, the window-washers occupy the lowest rung because after having had a smash-’n'-grab (there’s even a neat phrase for it) years ago I get panicked when someone lies across my line of sight).
In this city begging is an art. Continue reading
Taking a walk in Joburg’s inner-city city may just surprise you for all the right reasons… [The brilliant photos are by Wesley Poon]
Ask anyone who lives here to describe the city of Joburg and they rarely extol its beauty. Mostly they point out it’s a city without a sea and until the Nelson Mandela Bridge it was a city without any remarkable landmarks that aren’t communication towers or apartment blocks. And those are the polite remarks.
Over the past five years, it’s a little known fact that the city has installed an impressive and growing number of public artworks – at last count at more than 50 sites. In 2006 a strategy was put in place to use public art as a way of fulfilling a range of Joburg’s developing needs. It called for a public art levy, a common global practice, that would devote up to one percent of the construction budget on major city building projects to this end. This was implemented by the Johannesburg Development Agency at a time when the city has been undergoing something of a boom, and it will continue.