Kgomotso Neto, Bree Street Taxi Rank 2, Johannesburg CBD 2018
Johannesburg has seen a rise in the number of artworks to grace its streets for more than two decades. From the corners of Amershoff and Bertha to Main Reef and Albertina Sisulu Road; Constitution Hill and Troyeville, Joburg’s inner city has become the epicentre for several public art projects. Does it suffice to place an artwork in a public space to make it public art?
Growing public interaction with visual art has given birth to collaborations between the taxi industry and artists: whether murals and photo shoots in the ranks, or artwork as minibus decal, taxis provide the route to access the public. They are the lifeline for the majority of South Africa’s commuting working class population. Taxi ranks are bustling and energetic spaces that become transitory zones through which one passes, rather than experiences in any meaningful way. These in-betweens and thoroughfares are the liminal and often vulnerable spaces in which people flow to and from employment. The shortage of visual culture in public spaces offers an opportunity to use the blank walls to create exhibitions of art, particularly art that reflects the experiences of those who interact with these spaces.
Art has always had a prominent role in South African culture, with much of its troubled past and present documented as well as understood through many famous and anonymous painters, photographers, sculptors, poets, playwrights and writers. While these storytellers and cultural observers can be found in all neighbourhoods, for the most part, what is deemed art is mostly shown in exclusive spaces.
As a reflection on this context, curators Sibongile Msimango and Sam Goldblatt present Middle Centre, which includes three large scale artworks by photographer Kgomotso Neto to be installed at Bree taxi rank in combination with a further four to form part of the UNDERLINE show at the Museum of African Design. There will be a series of posters of Neto’s work placed along the taxi route departing from Bree taxi rank through to the Jeppestown pick-up stop. There will be further posters from the pickup stop leading to MOAD, animating the works and preparing commuters for the exhibitions at both destinations.
Neto has been working within Joburg’s inner-city for several years and is playing a prominent role in the new generation of photographers, in a country that has become well-known for its socially engaged photography. His work on commuters in and around the life of the taxi ranks will provide an opportunity for a new audience to see a knowing and critical understanding of this space, so pivotal to the city. While the work is installed, Neto will document the public engagement with the photographs, allowing the project to extend into new forms, and encouraging new exhibitions when his work is de- installed from its original location.
Art and its presence in public spaces has the capacity to promote the values of inclusivity and representation when taken to atypical spaces. For this reason, it is important that public art speaks to the context in which it is placed.