(I promise ^ that map ^ will help you understand this blog post.)
Upon flying into the Johannesburg airport late Thursday night, I spent my first two nights in a backpacker lodge Kempton Park to recover from jet lag, clear the pile of emails, and readjust to this (still) starkly divided and distrustful land of gated compounds and razor wire.
On Saturday, I took the jarringly sleek Gautrain to Rosebank in order to see Candice Breitz’s The Woods video exhibition at Goodman Gallery. Breitz, a South African artist currently living in Berlin, created “a trilogy of video installations that takes a close look at the world of child performers and the performance of childhood in order to probe the dreams and promises embedded in mainstream cinema.”
The minutely precise editing guides one’s attention effortlessly from channel to channel for the entire 15 – 20 minute duration. As I sat enthralled in front of the screens, I continually marveled at Breitz’s exactitude in choosing which child would speak when, which screens would be playing and which wouldn’t, when the voices would overlap, when the children on the screen would gesture at each other, and on and on. Each installation was a perfectly choreographed whole, and yet I could never anticipate the next move that would be made in each component part. I left the exhibition overwhelmed with motivation to channel her precision in my own work. (Watch for my attempts in the Johannesburg sketchbook pages.)
Johannesburg, a prime example of urban sprawl, has been only been open to exploration thanks to my local guardian angel, Nici. Nici, a writer and editor for a food trade publication, accepted me initially as her CouchSurfing guest, but she has turned out to be a warmhearted tour guide, friend, and fellow explorer.
She picked me up after my visit to the Goodman Gallery, and we drove through the Central Business District and ate dinner in Newtown (both around the “Johannesburg” section of the map). After dinner, we wandered over The National School of the Arts to watch “African Reflections,” a dance and orchestral performance. The students’ and production crew’s talent and professionalism were astounding.
On Sunday, after South African pancakes and coffee, we moseyed from her flat outside of Randburg to Market on Main in the Maboneng Precinct near Kensington. The Market features rows upon rows of smiling vendors tempting passersby with delicacies from around the globe. While noshing on empanadas and peach ice tea, we wandered through the local galleries and bookshops in this burgeoning district. The Arts on Main and Fox Studios served as the epicenter for the recent I Art Joburg project, which commissioned artists in September 2012 to paint large murals on empty walls throughout the underprivileged areas that surround the hip (natch gentrifying) Maboneng.
I look forward to spending more time in the Maboneng Precinct to parse out the delicate complexities that arise when artists and hipsters move into an underserved district, raise rents, and create an isolated cultural bubble.
“Africa Time (Part 2)” will be posted Wednesday. Until then, please share your experiences in Johannesburg or with artists becoming gentrifying forces in the comments below!