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
Photographed by Sean Tangney and Nic Huisman