Final Notes From South Africa
SEEKING JOHANNES IN CAPE TOWN
I concluded my travels with a quick trip to Cape Town, completing my race through the city’s contemporary art galleries and museums with a visit to the artist Sue Williamson’s studio. You can currently see Williamson’s Better Lives in our Present Tense galleries. The series tells the oft-harrowing stories of immigrants into South Africa through the language of studio portraiture. Though documenting a critical political issue in the country, Better Lives is not found within the collection of the South African National Gallery, making its presence within the Newark Museum all the more powerful.
In her studio, Williamson displayed some of her ongoing projects, including Other Voices, Other Cities, which examines what it means, in this globalized world, to live in a particular place. She travels to cities in and outside of Africa (New York, Havana, Harare, Johannesburg, London, Bern and Berlin) and gathers a group of young artists and others to workshop the question: Why do the residents of a city choose to live there, and if there were one message that would express the essence of that city, what would it be? The participants brainstorm answers together and vote on the most popular statement. The group then poses for a photograph with the statement, made up in large cardboard letters, in a public space viewed as emblematic of the city. Williamson had her Johannesburg iteration of the project on the wall of her studio. Recognizing the neighborhood in the photograph as the one I had walked through just days before to get to Diane Victor’s studio, reading its message, “Who is Johannes?” I finally felt equipped to contemplate the question.
– Perrin Lathrop, Research Assistant, Arts of Africa
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