Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg
Urban change is a highly prevailing topic, notonly strongly experienced but also debated in the big cities of many Africancountries. Much has been written about these urban transformations, but onlylittle research has been done about the way how these transformations areperceived and reflected by visual artists. This project aims at doing preciselythis in Johannesburg.
Johannesburg has experienced a strong impact ofurban and cultural change since the end of apartheid and the introduction ofdemocracy in 1994. Many artists of the younger generation engage in theseprocesses of change in the city. Based on different art histories (which arerelated to the history of Apartheid), they deal with urban change in theirindividual media and discourses. De-segregation, new segregations, migration,economic uncertainties, AIDS and crime are just a few of the topics whichartists take up, partly replacing the resistance (and other) art of thepreceding generation. But also the beauty, the unique history and the mythskeep artists intrigued by the inner city of Johannesburg.
The experience, examination and representationof the changes in the metropolis by contemporary artists are the focus of thisresearch project. Its central question is:
·How do the artists perceive and reflect urbanity and social change inJohannesburg within their work?
What, in this context, does transformation mean?What forms, structures and aesthetics are peculiar to the artists’ engagementwith the city, and have the artistic strategies changed, too? How are theyrelated to the way the artists live and socialize in Johannesburg, and to local,urban, national or “global” art history?
The approach is based on a combination ofperspectives and methods from art history and anthropology, meeting in therecent discussion of visual culture as an interdisciplinary field of scholarlyenquiry. A selection of artistic positions dealing with urban and social changecovers different media like prints, painting, photography, video, performanceand happenings, and thus provides for a concept of diverse, historicallyinfluenced “art histories”. In the last years, art in public space has gainedrelevance and therefore also shall be discussed in relation to recent citypolicy as well as the notion and perception of public space as such. Crucialaspects are the artist's topics, visual interpretations and strategiesspecifically in terms of a contemporary urban space and its potential ofchange.With the focus oncontemporary artists in a specific metropolitan area, the project includes alocal as well as a transnational view. While the latter is crucial consideringthe international presence of South African art and artists, the former is ableto answer more questions about the specific practice of artists working in andabout the city. This also contributes to a critical reflection of how thedisciplines of anthropology and art history can deal with transitionalsocieties and their visual cultures.