More Notes from South Africa

August 9, 2012 at 10:59 am Leave a comment

Follow Perrin’s impressions as she moves on from Pretoria to Johannesburg.


Stills from 3SAI: A Rite of Passage, 2008. Single channel, high-definition digital video, stereo soundtrack, 14 minutes. Courtesy Format Digital Production and Art Source South Africa © Paul Emmanuel. Visit for more information.

After the conference concluded, I continued on to Johannesburg where I was fortunate enough to meet Paul Emmanuel, an artist whose practice explores the intersections of masculinity, race and the military, often dealing with life cycles and the rites of passage associated with them. In his studio, Emmanuel screened his poignant film, 3-SAI (Third South African Infantry Battalion): A Rite of Passage, which documents young boys going through ritual head shaving as they enter the military, recording the transition from boyhood to state property. Emmanuel’s apartment and studio were located in the 44 Stanley complex, an urban renewal project that saw 1930s warehouses converted into shops, galleries, restaurants and studio and living spaces. Having grown up under Apartheid, Emmanuel spoke quite emotionally about his appreciation for this welcoming artistic enclave where people from all walks of life can now come together and collaborate.

Street sign welcoming me to the Maboneng Precinct in downtown Johannesburg.

Jo’burg’s artistic pulse centers around similar urban regeneration projects spread throughout the city. Often spanning only one or two blocks, these micro-neighborhoods rise like oases in the desert, serving up contemporary art and artisanal coffee in equal measure. On Sunday I visited Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct to attend the opening of artist Sean Slemon’s new work at Nirox, a gallery space used by David Krut Projects. Arts on Main, a bustling creative district made up of galleries, shops, cafes, cinemas and weekend markets, is also home to both artist William Kentridge’s and photographer Mikhael Subotzky’s studios. Slemon, interested in the commodification of nature, was born in South Africa but now lives only a few neighborhoods away from my own apartment in Brooklyn. My trip was plagued by such contradictions, offering comfort in the familiar within a larger setting that seemed so foreign.

Installation shots from the exhibition New Work: Sean Slemon, organized by David Krut Projects, featuring a gypsum sculpture of a tree’s shadow (left) and a print of a tree fashioned from soil (right).

– Perrin Lathrop, Research Assistant, Arts of Africa


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