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Artwork by Lex Trickett

Combining art and city-making

Future Cape Town takes on a transdisciplinary approach to research and urban living. In the spirit of this they put together the project Constructing Future Cities and selected 5 female artists who operate within the built environment to re-imagine cities led and designed by women. This involved a short trip to Durban and a week in Cape Town, with the official endpoint being an exhibition and panel discussion at the end of May. I interviewed the artists about their experiences as part of the project, and to find out more about the works they put together for their final exhibition.

Masters student Michelle Mlati looks at the intersection of art and solar power as a way of re-imagining the future sustainability of African cities. “Constructing Future Cities has enabled a space to explore the aesthetic possibilities of what these things look like, which is still an ongoing project,” she explained.

For the exhibition she mapped out a nuclear fusion reaction on canvas with solar powered lights [nuclear fusion is the energy source that powers the sun]. This is particularly relevant with increased global conversations around nuclear power programmws. While advocating for the use of solar energy, her work also critiqued the idea that we might be attempting to re-create the sun through the nuclear fusion route. Most importantly, her motivations for using solar power was to try to “de-mystify” these kinds of technologies. Her work Solar Rhythms embraced this aim. Photovoltaic cells [the essence of solar panels] were displayed on canvas, allowing people to touch the work, showing them that “this is not as alien as a lot of people might perceive it to be.”

Thozama Mputa, a Masters student in landscape architecture, saw the project as an opportunity to integrate all three of her passions; film photography, painting and architecture. With her painting of people and places she had seen throughout the course of the project, she demonstrated that cities can be captured beyond blueprints. The life of cities can be imagined with line, form and watercolours. In this way she was able to speak back to established understandings of city-making.

Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers and Amina Kaskar from Counterspace also took assessing ideas around city-making as their point of departure. Looking to recent events and demonstrations that have happened in cities, such as #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall protests as well as  xenophobic attacks, their approach was to analyze how these affect how cities are made. Understanding that these have brought in a new kind of urbanism, where people actively engage in the interpretation of policies, Counterspace took the opportunity to show that these “insurgent practices”  play a part in the way that cities are laid out. With this focus on short-lived moments of disruption within the city, they worked within the digital realm “because we felt that we could access an ephemeral explanation very quickly that way.”

They combined images of protests and religious practices with different types of aerial view landscapes that are recognisable in South Africa, making their discussions and thought processes visual. This allowed them to take seriously the ramifications of these events to create an idea for future city landscapes.

Even though each artist worked on individual projects, the feedback and input they received from one another helped to gel the exhibition together, creating a collective energy that flowed through the exhibition space between the works, connecting them together.

The team at Future Cape Town hope that this will be the beginning of multiple projects that combine art and city-making.


‘This article forms part of content created for the British Council Connect ZA 2017 Programme. To find out more about the programme click here.’

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