Everard Read, Cape Town
13.08 – 07.10.2017
1. Earlier this year, when I was invited for an interview at the Gallery University Stellenbosch, I came with my own judgemental expectations about the location of the position. The exhibition inside did not dismiss my expectations, but an artwork outside did. On the external wall of the white old church building that houses the gallery, I found a sign that the place might be not too dislocated from my curatorial position: a big mural of a protest scene, made up of tile-like patches of wall paper. Perhaps this University town – infamous for its disassociation from its location in Africa – is not as much in denial of its context.
2. The mural was accompanied with a label of Hiervandaan (Afrikaans for ‘From Here’), crediting local street art icon Faith XLVII and photographer Imraan Christian. “The photograph documents a pivotal turning point – the moment when peaceful protestors reacted violently as a response to sustained police brutality”
3. As ironic as globalisation allows, with my atheist-Jewish upbringing I got the keys to curate this church-turned-gallery, together with a Muslim colleague. Three months later, I arrived to work to discover the mural had gone awol. Passersby come in to ask what happened to the mural, including a heart-broken student who helped put it up. Was it removed by the heritage police? A few phone calls and emails later, I find out that Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, who put it there in the first place, have removed it as it was intended to be a temporary installation. Would another mural come instead this year? No, this year the focus is on designed bicycle stands.
4. Two months later, I am asked to review the group show ‘Dislocation’ at Everard Read, Cape Town. Scrolling through the website before the visit, looking for reasons to justify me writing on an exhibition I have no link to, I was touched to find ‘my’ mural is part of the show. That feeling of encountering an artwork that you ‘know’, like an old friend from high-school, in the unlikeliest of places. I was curious how it will be displayed in a gallery. It’s not new that street artists do the commercial fine-art gallery hustle, yet I wondered on the nature of this particular re-location.
5. Before discussing dislocation, maybe a few words on the location are required. Where do I begin describing the Waterfront? With the dislocation of creative expression into a commodity? Or with the disassociation of this mall-quarter from its city, with its issues; from its country and from its continent? Maybe one need not go too far to discuss dislocation.
6. The gallery is located in the most interesting (for me) location: the corner that tells you all you need to know about the politics of the Waterfront – the unmarked taxi rank. Despite their undisputed status as the most popular public transport of the country, shared minibus taxis are not allowed to drive their commuters – those who service, secure and serve tea at the Waterfront – into this wonderland of cleanliness and wealth. So those coming from their various locations are dropped off on the corner of the unofficial border of Cape Town, Africa and the republic of Waterfront.
7. On that same corner is Somerset Hospital – one of the few public hospitals in the city. An institution that attends for free to those who can’t afford a better medical treatment, in the biggest mall that is suburb – is adding to the cognitive dissonance.
8. The history of that street, displayed on a municipal sign at the improvised taxi rank corner tells of even more troubling context – down the road was Breakwater Prison where “[San and African] hard-labour prisoners were forced to build the colonial infrastructure as slaves had done before them”.
9. As I try to curve my judgemental tendencies, I find Everard Read door closed and my ringing the door bell goes unanswered. “The entrance is through the parking in the back” I am informed when calling the gallery phone. I guess they don’t expect their visitors to come with a taxi.
10. Despite the fact that the work I came to re-view, titled 21.10.2015 (I), was first exhibited at Everard Read, and only later placed as a mural in Stellenbosch, I can’t avoid comparing the gallery version to the first impression of the work in its mural form. I feel underwhelmed. It is way smaller and its price twice higher than the budget of its deceased street twin. The location forces itself on the artwork, with outside scenes reflecting in its glass frame via the windows from any angle I try to look.
11. I’m not sure what feels more displaced – a protest in a ‘fine art’ gallery or a protest on Stellenbosch heritage building; a protest in Waterfront or a R70,000 price tag on #FeesMustFall artefact. Faith XLVII website answers the question I don’t dare to pose to her in person – “The artwork intends to provoke and bring visibility to the need for transformation within the historical and institutional structures of South Africa”. When I do dare to contact her in person, she asks to mention that “Imraan and I have been donating money to a student through the work”.
12. The credit to the collaborating photographer is displaced, so is the curatorial statement. Maybe further explanation is not necessary. The title is self-explanatory, capturing the show with its content and context, in the most precise of ways. Is it reflection and self-awareness that stands behind the curatorial concept of dislocation? What if, as Faith XLVII’s website statement suggests, it is dislocation that is required to shake a segregated society, economy, art-world. How else will the American tourists spilling over from Zeitz MOCAA know about the students frustrations with tuition fees?
13. Looking around the white cube are more candidates on the title of dislocation – Sotho initiation (by Ignatius Mokone), isiXhosa titles (by Wandie Mesatywa), Cape Malay identity (by Thania Petersen). Petersen’s work, shares a wall with Faith XLVII. The former is bigger and shinier, using a lightbox and bright colours. She brings another take on dislocation. Petersen is celebrated in the local artworld, including the new and fancy museum down the road, with clear intention of using her art to relocate herself from the ‘coloured’ box apartheid put her into, back to her royal Indonesian routes. In the two works exhibited in Dislocation she introduces Photoshop collages, cutting and pasting her own context. In Kanala Walk she crafts a jamboree of capitalism around her, with powerful and humorous take on the mall we live in, with selfies, McDonalds and Coca Cola. Zooming out to the mall that is Waterfront, her work seems to be the best conceptually located in the ‘Dislocation’ group exhibition.
14. Back to the taxi rank, I squeeze in with 16 fellow commuters and a driver, and go back home. It’s the last day to send a funding application for a mural to replace the Faith XLVII piece on the Stellenbosch church.