February 27, 2016
We talk about art in Uluntu. Edwin tells me that there is a permanent community art collective in the neighbourhood, some form of collaboration between community members and artists from the university. Esme, whom I am hoping to work with, is based there. Edwin tells me about the art installations that are in place now, on exhibition in people’s homes and in public spaces throughout Uluntu, although he adds, almost as an aside, that most is the work of wealthy white artists from down below. It is hard for me to think of these two spaces as part of the same city, the shiny white enclave surrounding the university that I have come to think of as ‘the city,’ and this other space which could not be more opposite. Geography separates them – not only the vast space in between the neighbourhoods, but also the clear boundaries delineated by major roads as designed by the city planners.
I wonder aloud if it would not make more sense, to my way of thinking, for art from Uluntu to be displayed in the city center so that the stories and perspectives and experiences of the Township could be shared with the larger community, rather than expecting that the residents of…
(I stumble here – I nearly said the name of the city. This is when I become aware of how deeply cemented the difference between these two spaces had become in my mind, almost from the very first)
…the main part of the city…
(I am aware of my language here – relegating this space – the poor, Black space – to Other. I don’t know how to correct it in time. I hope Edwin hasn’t noticed. I feel deeply ignorant. Am I overthinking this?)
…to come up into the Township?
If Edwin is aware of my fumbling awkwardness, he is much too charming to let on. He tells me that people have been over saturated with images of Township life. They are sick to death of stories and images of these impoverished communities after all the years of failed efforts and initiatives. The inability to effect significant change here has led to a sort of unconscious blindness to the problem that does not seem to have a solution. Sound familiar?
One final irony – as we begin to drive down the mountain back towards ‘town,’ Edwin informs me that the best views of the city are from where we are at that moment. Most of the tourism images that you will see of this city and the surrounding region have been photographed from within the Township.