(I promise ^ that map ^ will help you understand this blog post.)
After leaving the Maboneng Precinct on Sunday, Nici and I drove into some of the surrounding Kensington neighborhoods in search of graffiti and street art created by local artists that was not related to the I Art Joburg project. Upon spotting a particularly beautiful piece, I hopped out of the car to photograph it. As the film slid out of the camera, a group of young guys sauntered over to see what on earth I was up to. When the image slowly appeared on the film, an uproar resounded, I was immediately commissioned to take their portraits.
The clambering crowd grew with each photograph, and when all the film was gone I was swamped with hugs and handshakes. Traveler’s Tip: instant photographs are an excellent alternative form of currency.
(Note: One of the sketchbook pages from this experience will be used as this week’s “Sneak Peek,” so stay tuned.)
Next, we drove over to Soweto to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum and Mandela House. Both were swarming with tourists (as was to be expected), but when I stepped into the courtyard of the museum, the buzz of the crowd disappeared, and I disappeared into a meditative and otherworldly place.
This superbly simple memorial consists of brick-like granite blocks with the victims’ names and laid on a gravel lot, reminiscent of how the bodies would have been scattered on the ground after the 1976 Soweto uprising. On June 16, 1976, 20,000 students protested the legislation that required education to be conducted in Afrikaans rather than the students’ native languages. The police opened fire on the crowd and closed off the district to try to contain the riot, ultimately killing over 400 students.
To recover from such a pendulum swing in emotions — boisterous love to somber grief — Nici and I sat quietly in the car to collect our thoughts.
This pendulum swing reflects the fact that Johannesburg truly is a city of contradictions. The wealthy and impoverished live parallel lives that rarely intersect; many still live in conditions similar or worse than during apartheid. Meanwhile, progress is sincerely heralded; public celebrations of “African” identity encompass all races.
These contradictions have inspired a cluster of artists to use their creativity to shine a light on, and perhaps even concoct ways to reconcile, them.
Due to the malleable nature of “Africa Time,” I inserted the trek to Zimbabwe smack in the middle of my time in Johannesburg to insure any border control and transportation issues will not prevent me from catching my flight back to the USA. Therefore, the next blog post will come from Zimbabwe, a land wealthy in natural resources and hopeful perseverance.
When I am back in Johannesburg, I will continue conducting interviews with artists and creative leaders to collect more details about their inspiration and methods. More to come!