Exploring, Undermining and Disrupting architectures of dominance - Photography by  - Ronald Ngilima
Photography by Ronald Ngilima

Exploring, Undermining and Disrupting architectures of dominance

Memorials aren’t memories. They have motives. They are historical. They are not history itself

– Nate Dimeo

Cities evolve and grow over time. More buildings are added while others are torn down and/or structurally and drastically altered. In the same light, cities act as time capsules that hold on to histories and memories. Buildings and sites become memorials.

Signage demarcating space by race might have been removed, oppressive administrative offices might have been closed and racially delineated infrastructure might have been written out of law, the Group Areas Act repealed — but largely the landscape of South Africa retains its oppressive and exclusionary structures with very little inspection of sites regarding their reason for existence.

Buildings, structures and spaces tell stories of the lives we live and expose the politics of the experience of the body through space, movement and time —and ours is a painful and traumatic history. 

The University of The Witwatersrand’s History Workshop and the School of Architecture & Planning are set to host a two-day workshop, ‘Falling Monuments, Reluctant Ruins: Colloquium on the Persistence of the Past in the Architecture and Infrastructure of Colonialism and Apartheid’.

The workshop coalesces historians, artists, urban planners and architects in South Africa and across Africa in exploring the lingering presence of colonial history through landscape and architecture. Taking place on Friday, 23rd November and Saturday, 24th November 2018, it will be hosted at the South West Engineering Building, University of the Witwatersrand.

Subject matters and specific topics to be explored include; ‘Heritage as a Foil for Social and Racial Justice’, ‘Tools of Vandalism in Monument Protest’ and ‘If These Spaces Could Talk: Performing Memories of a Historic Black High School’. Presenters of the workshop range from thought leaders, city planners and artists, among others; Khwezi Gule (curator in chief at the Johannesburg Art Gallery), Ali Hlongwane (Deputy Director: Museums and Galleries) and Pamila Gupta (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research).

The workshop is linked to the exhibition EJARADINI which will open at the Johannesburg Art Gallery on the 24th of November (open till February 2019). EJARADINI is a project by MADEYOULOOK (MYL); the Joburg based inter-disciplinary artist collective made up of Nare Mokgotho and Molemo Moiloa.

EJARADINI is a seminal deconstruction of the black urban gardening experience presented through photographic archives:

Using the black urban experience as our primary departure point has, over the last 10 years, brought MYL to explore popular education spaces (Sermon on the Train, 2009 – 2011), collaborative infrastructures (Gazart 2009 – 2013), knowledge dissemination systems and oral histories (Extra Extra 2013, Non-Monuments Programme 2012 – present), and Black Love as Knowledge space (Corner Loving, 2014 – present). In all these projects, we have looked to everyday black urban lifehood and relationality to model ways of practicing and being. These ways of practicing and being are often overlooked, considered ‘informal’, or have simply had limited rigorous engagement – particularly within the formal houses of knowledge production. However, they have the potential to bring acute insight and a very different perspective to key issues – new knowledges for emergent challenges. Black gardening might serve as a framework from which one might claim models of belonging, of place making and of value, out of and in spite of the cultural frameworks of historical colonial control.

Both projects are in conversation with each other to question, undermine and disrupt existing architectures of dominance and systems of thought. If architecture can be viewed as an act of social consciousness, then it is upon us to question how and why certain spaces make us feel; and how they contribute to our ability to live full lives.

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