Archive: Issue No. 49, September 2001

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Pitso Chinzima

Pitso Chinzima
Ambigious Self-Portrait (detail), 1996
Welded metal


A taxi waits for customers at Cape Town station

South African artist for São Paulo named

The South African selection for the 25th São Paulo Biennial, which will open on March 23 2002 and continue until June 2, is Pitso Chinzima, assistant exhibitions officer at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The proposer and curator of Chinzima's work is the JAG's Prince Dube, and the organisation of the nominations was facilitated through the National Arts Council.

The theme of the biennial, under co-ordinator Peter Tjabbes, is 'Metropolitan Iconographies', and apart from Latin American artists, will include work from eight cities around the world. Chinzima's proposal, which focuses on the country's vibrant taxi culture, sounds totally appropriate for the urban theme of the São Paulo Biennial.

"Modern culture in South Africa is a result of the synthesis of multi-cultures or world cultures," writes Dube in his curatorial statement. "What would make a contemporary work of art from South Africa African? The theme of the biennial demands that the artist should produce work that will demonstrate how urban energy influences today's artists. At the same time it demands that Northern and Southern Hemispheres be brought together. It intends to build bridges between non-European cultures along a South-South track. This means that each participating country needs to be original.

"How can an artist from a metropolitan city such as Johannesburg be original? Johannesburg seems to be bringing sufficient elements and materials from which an artist could draw from when producing a true representative work of art. Borrowing major characteristics of African art and integrating it with elements of contemporary global artistic production produces a fine and original African contemporary art. Pitso achieved just that. It is for these reasons I selected him for this biennial.

"Pitso chose to use the most significant player in the South African cities, minibus taxis. Johannesburg as a mega city owes its existence to the people who work it. Without these people there is no city. These taxis transport more than 70% of commuters as compared to less than 30% by trains and buses."

Chinzima's installation at the biennial will incorporate four minibus taxis. These vehicles will be fitted with two video projectors and two slide projectors which will show images of events and activities that affect the industry and cultural events around the city. Three vehicles will be purchased directly from the streets, and the fourth - an accident wreck - from the scrapyard. A powerful sound system will also be part of the installation. Dube's proposal description gives an interesting insight into the world of taxis:

"Vehicle A will be purchased from Umlazi, Durban. This vehicle is sought because of its uniqueness within the industry. It is famous because of all the additional gadgets. It is fitted with a sound system, which includes high watts speakers, CD shuttle and high watts amplifiers. The backseat is adjusted to accommodate all the gadgets. The entire back is covered with speakers from the floor to the roof. Opening the boot leads to the music system and there is no more space for anything else. A video of cultural events and people and life in the city will be projected from this vehicle. Five music CDs will be placed in the shuttle. Viewers will be used to represent taxi commuters. They will be allowed to enter and playback music.

"Vehicle B will be a wreck of a former taxi involved in an accident. Slides of newspaper articles covering taxi stories will be projected from this vehicle. Vehicle C will be purchased from Soweto, a working taxi, which has been taken good care of by the owner and the driver. Unlike vehicle A, it has no added gadgets. It will project slides of taxi violence, funerals, taxi maintenance and queues. Images will be projected over vehicle A onto the wall. Silhouettes of people viewing and interaction with the exhibit will form part of the projection. Recorded voices of commuters will be played in this vehicle.

"Vehicle D will be an unroadworthy vehicle still operating as a taxi, to be purchased from Vosloorus township. A video from this vehicle will show political events that involve the industry."

Chinzima is a fine arts graduate of Witwatersrand Univiersity, and was part of the Colin Richards-curated show 'Graft' on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in the South African National Gallery in 1997. He has lectured in sculpture at Funda Community College in Soweto and between 1998 and 2000 served as an advisory board member at the Rembrandt Van Rijn Gallery in Newtown.