Images from 'Toxic Playground' by
Images from 'Toxic Playground' by Robyn Kater

Robyn Kater: the intersection between history, identity and the city as a living organism

Robyn Kater is a bold, passionate and multifaceted artist who is deeply inspired by the city of Johannesburg and all those who live within it. She views her home city, Johannesburg as the compelling and rich space that has greatly influenced her personal identity as well as artwork. The 23-year-old freelance artist, who recently graduated from WITS University with her Fine Art degree, relates her journey as that of self-discovery, learning and unlearning as well as one of trial and error.

The use of Johannesburg as Robyn’s leading inspiration has motivated her to produce a powerful body of work titled, ‘Toxic Playground’. Robyn describes ‘Toxic Playground’ as a mixed media installation that comprises of photography, video and found objects through which she examines how the Johannesburg mine dumps become palimpsests of personal memory and toxicity. The ‘Toxic Playground’ installation consists of 100kg of sand which was collected over three months from the Riverlea mine dump – this is of significant sentiment to Robyn as she grew up in the community situated right next to the dump.

‘Toxic Playground’ is emblematic of the socio-economic and environmental issues currently facing the residents of the area, and essentially speaks to the community’s concerns. This is because the city’s mine dumps have been normalized to be included in the community’s everyday landscape, yet they are severely toxic. They symbolize the exploitative deep-rooted nature of the city. Robyn’s body of artwork raises important questions that require effective answers such as: “what should be done with remnants of the city’s division post-conflict, post-apartheid state? What influence do memory and remembrance of these places have on transformation of the city’s spatial morphology (formation), identity and flows of everyday urban life?”.

In all aspects of this work Robyn does the job of detecting the intersection between history, heritage, identity, displacement and space. Robyn eloquently expresses how she is “interested in the city as a living organism and how the tangible and intangible fragments meet and overlap to form a lived experience”. An in-depth interpretation of Robyn’s artwork demonstrates that she thinks of Johannesburg in various ways. She sees the city as a complex living organism in which certain spaces act as remnants of personal memory and of an overlapping history. In addition to this, her unique artwork illustrates a vivid relationship that the city of Johannesburg presents between space and identity.

Robyn is open to collaborate with people outside of the art industry such as historians, architects and urban planners. She would also like to have to the opportunity to exhibit her work at more experimental spaces. Having showcased at Wits Art Museum, The Point of Order as well as Nothing Gets Organised and with the hopes of showcasing at Zeitz MOCAA someday, Robyn is truly one fearless trailblazer who is more than ready to get her message across.

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