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SUBWAY ARTWORK

This 400m long mural celebrates the heritage and memory of Fordsburg and Fietas, two historic and vibrant areas near Johannesburg’s inner city. As a counterpoint to the soaring, future affirming Mandela Bridge the Subway represents an excavation revealing a history erased by Apartheid.

Fietas has been destroyed through forced removals carried out in the 70’s yet stories live on capturing the nuances of lived experiences in a vibrant community. The making of the art work engaged artists with roots in the area as well as past and present residents. The process started with a series of conversations which were recorded as part of a growing archive of testimonies. From these stories as well as artifacts (mainly photographic) the mural was conceived as a series of elements depicting ordinary characters, details and events characterising life.

Architectural details and spaces which shaped the urban fabric are abstracted to generate large-scale patterns readable from a car traveling through the subway. Smaller elements such as the silhouetted doves, children and people capture common scenes of games, dances, pass controls, etc. and are scaled to a pedestrian experience.

The wall paper pattern is derived from a David Goldblatt photograph of the interior of the Docrat household and is reproduced at an urban scale, implying the interior world of lives lived in homes destroyed. It also makes a subtle reference to Islamic patterns and in some areas implies a magical carpet or night sky re-enforced by the bicycle reflectors embedded in it.

Parts of the original mural commemorating the first Fietas Festival held in 2003 are incorporated into the new work resulting an a palimpsest of layers and images which serves as prompts during heritage tours guided by ex residents.

Fietas represented a dynamic, urban microcosm characterised by diversity, tolerance and belonging during the height of apartheid. Its memory is essential to the collective consciousness of a nation whose choices for living in the city are becoming more and more limited through fear, crime and franchised development.

Carried out in collaboration with the Trinity Session
Artists: Rookeya Gardee, Bronwyn Lace, Reg Pakari
Implementation: Bie Venter
26’10 project team: Thorsten Deckler, Anne Graupner, Philippa Frowein, Tahira Toffa, Shameema Davids, Carl Jacobsz
Photographed by Sean Tangney and Nic Huisman