Susan Woolf’s taxi hand signs, South Africa’s 12th official language

Susan Woolf's Taxi Hand Signs Booklet

Susan Woolf’s Taxi Hand Signs Booklet

Every day thousands of hands stretch out along commuter routes across Gauteng speaking a silent language of taxi hand signs. The upraised index finger, indicating you are headed to town and the hand turned palm-side up, the fingers grasping an invisible fruit to signify your destination is Orange Farm, are read by minibus taxi drivers all the time and are the framework for a complex system of transport routes. Developed from necessity, and with ingenuity, this silent exchange of signs is the fundamental unit of communication for millions of minibus taxi commuters.  Continue reading

A sneak preview of Wits Art Museum

It’s taken 11 days but I am officially ready to start 2012. It’s a Joburg thing – from December to January the city’s heartbeat slows, in preparation for the crazy pace that will follow for the next 11 months. (If we are going to end the year by throwing fridges out of high-rises some contemplative time will be necessary)

This year will be no different (talking pace here). I have been hearing some interesting plans for the city, talk of a Museum of African Design, whispers about another of African Art (housing an extensive private collection) and the one I am more familiar with, the Wits Art Museum. WAM is a 10-year work in progress that once completed will not only add another notch to Braamfontein’s visitor belt it will transform the art landscape of the city.

The view from inside Wits Art Museum


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Public Art in Joburg – the West Side Story Part 1

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.

The unofficial public art in the city - District 9

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Hotel Yeoville, a digital space to call home

#202 Check in to Hotel Yeoville. I spent Saturday morning at Hotel Yeoville, one of the most exciting interactive exhibitions I have seen. Hotel Yeoville is the brainchild of photographer and artist Terry Kurgan who has for the past three years championed this project to as she puts it to “make the invisible community visible”. Its aim is to create a social map of the migrant or immigrant experience of Johannesburg – to track the experiences of those who have travelled from all over and now call Joburg home. Ironically home is not always a refuge – and the exhibition uses popular social media technologies to create safe spaces in which the complex emotions people have about home can be articulated and shared.

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Joburg Art Fair 2010

#193 Look forward to one of my favourite events in this city – the Joburg Art Fair. Now in its third year the Fair has done for Joburg what the Design Indaba has done for Cape Town – made the city the capital of edgy contemporary hip-ness for a few glorious days. Last week I got a chance to talk to its founder, Ross Douglas of ArtLogic at his office/home — a real urban fashion statement in Milpark overlooking the huge circular tower of Egoli Gas.

Lawrence Lemaoana's Dancers on the Wall, 2009

Lawrence Lemaoana's Dancers on the Wall, 2009

Douglas previously co-produced William Kentridge’s 9 Drawings for Projection, and worked in film and TV. He came to setting up the Art Fair “through a strange series of steps” and was determined to see if he could wrest some sponsorship for an art event in a country where the big corporate money had long been earmarked for sport. The Fair was conceived of as a place where corporate South Africa and the contemporary art world should meet.
When he first started selling the idea one famous gallery owner remarked “I don’t know if anyone will come to that“.
An introduction to Paul Harris, First Rand CEO – FNB has been the Fair’s major sponsor since its inception – was the catalyst.
The challenges of holding an Art Fair in South Africa are not small. “How do you position an Art Fair in Africa?” says Douglas. For one thing there is no neighbouring art industry. Unlike in Europe, the US or South America the continent does not have a gallery system and most people’s perception of African art is that it is “craft”. The Joburg Art Fair was determined to change that – to shift the focus away from the folksy cliches of tourist art and onto contemporary work – art that makes a statement about “the time we live in and the place we live in”.
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FIFA 2010 official art posters

#182. Think of covering the walls with some highly covetable posters. To mark the (dare I say it – FIFA, don’t shoot) World Cup in South Africa in 2010 (there it’s out and so far the use of those words together in one sentence has brought me neither a lightning bolt nor an ominous knock at the door. In fact those German Shepherds barking are mine) a number of local and international artists were commissioned to produce some truly gorgeous works of art. An official Art Posters Edition series that “celebrates and pays homage to the beautiful game“.

The Good Game, Hassan Musa


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Goodbye Top Star, Hello Alberton

#153. Watch Times photographer Marianne Schwankhart’s farewell to one of Johannesburg’s best known landmarks – The Top Star Drive-In. While the Top Star hasn’t operated for the past four years it will be the end of an era when you drive around the city centre from the east and don’t see that enormous movie screen rising above you on one of the city’s mine dumps.


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William Kentridge, that nose and my iphone

#141. Read Gogol on my iphone. An article in Business Day’s Wanted about the inspiration behind William Kentridge’s tapestries (now on display at Goodman Gallery at Arts on Main) had me searching my iphone for a copy of Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose . Continue reading

Arts on Main

#139. Head downtown to Arts on Main. It’s not often that you have an opportunity to witness a random conversation between two generations of South Africa’s  most talented artists whose work is collected by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and other major global art institutions. There I was walking through the courtyard at Arts on Main watching William Kentridge lean out of his studio window to talk to photographer Mikhael Subotzky.

My first instinct was to think someone had called casting central and requisitioned two famous artists: “We’re sending Kentridge and that Magnum guy  Subotzky. They can handle this gig.” Continue reading

Lolo Veleko's urban hip

#130. See Lolo Veleko’s photographs at the Standard Bank Gallery. Only one day to go until the exhibition moves off taking Veleko’s portraits of urban fashionistas and graffiti with it. “Gatecrash your own fantasy” reads a piece of graffiti scrawled on a wall. Veleko’s subjects are mostly young, black and hip. They stare back at you with a brash confidence, dressed in clothing that makes you start. It’s full of colour, its often unconventional in its arrangement, it is “individual” and a powerful form of expressing that. “The Japanese love them,” a Joburg gallery curator once told me.

nv-duval-kabeya

There is an element of fantasy to the subjects being dressed up so as they stand out from their urban settings. The exhibition is aptly named “Wonderland” and at its centre is an installation — a green carpet dotted with plastic flowers, swings suspended  above it from the ceiling. It looks inviting and fantastical — all that is missing is a ‘Don’t walk on the grass sign’.

In the background of some of the photos is the city of Durban with its tropical palm trees and strange mix of cutting-edge urban fashion and design with that frozen-in-time  1970’s  seaside town look (reminding me of the movie Funny Bones starring Oliver Plat and set in Blackpool where he auditions lots of carnie-folk). It is perfectly  captured in a photograph of a statue of a rickshaw-puller, behind him two strange-looking white children, all of their frozen gazes fixed on what’s ahead; another has a fairytale castle set amidst a city landscape, a couple at its doorway as if they are about to enter and escape to another dimension.

lolo-veleko

Standard Bank Young Artist Veleko is in an exploratory phase, playing with words and meaning. Another piece of graffiti says: “Adventure without risk is Disneyland”.

Her photographs range from portraiture to capturing fragments of urban life.

William Kentridge (also a Standard Bank Young Artist once) was there before us and signed the comment book with “White people are negotiable ?” – a comment on one of the grafitti photos. William if you are listening I chose to interpret that as saying you can bargain them down. Let’s discuss. I don’t have to tell you its art – open to as much interpretation as you can throw at it.

* Standard Bank Gallery is on the corner Simmonds and Frederick Streets, downtown Johannesburg. For more on the gallery click here.