Not all art launches happen at hotels high on a hill next to Joburg’s stately homes. Just like being uncatalogued doesn’t mean work isn’t worthy.
It’s this concept that makes #TheOpenCityProject by artist and comic book illustrator Wesley Pepper so visceral – it presents a number of ways to experience art outside of the stuffiness of a gallery that is very much “you can look, but please don’t touch”.
Central to #TheOpenCityProject, Pepper explores gentrification (he lives right next to Maboneng, and knows how the tentacles of gentrification can encourage displacement).
The exhibition approaches Johannesburg as a place where man can manipulate the environment to such an extent that displacement, racism and classicism become the shrapnel of greed.
“My critique is that post-1994 there’s been an influx of people moving into the city and businesses moving out, and now businesses are moving back in. I’ve lived in the inner city now for seven years and have seen places come up and places go down, but it’s the displacement of people that I really notice.
“As soon as developers come in the property value increases and everybody that stays in the city stay there because it’s convenient and affordable. Now it’s unaffordable.
“There’s no provision made for that. Gentrification gave birth to a new class of poor. You get people now right, right at the bottom – and it’s growing.
“An example, on Goud Street and Commissioner, they knocked down a building to create a parking lot for a bank. We make place for cars, not people. That’s a problem,” Pepper says.
This year Bo-Kaap residents in Cape Town also started fighting against the same sort of greed, and #TheOpenCityProject works hand-in-hand with the same narrative of resistance with the work expressing the voices and emotions of those people excluded and marginalised by the process of securitisation, privatisation and surveillance and how they resist and create their own autonomous space.
“The irony is that it’s supposed to be more open for artists, but it’s not really. Part of what I do as an artist is look at the mainstream art world that caters for one or two percent of a buying population.
“I see homeless people on Fox Street when passing an art gallery. They look straight ahead, because they can’t afford anything. If a middle-class guy walks by the gallery, it doesn’t say you can’t come in. It says can you afford to come in. I think that has prejudiced markets for far too long.”
The exhibition is built around the idea that art is not exclusive. It’s for and about people who live in the inner city of Johannesburg.
That doesn’t mean anyone is excluded from taking part in starting or joining a very specific conversation. The exhibition takes place at Once in Joburg, and while also a gentrified space, Once is also democratic, especially for traveling creatives, with rock-bottom prices for quality accommodation which is primarily aimed at young people.
“But I want the crowd to be mixed. I think we must move on from the traditional art space, it’s much better for everyone if we grow and look for alternative markets.
“As the art world grows, the artist grows. That’s why so many artist remain untapped,” Pepper says.
The 21 works featured in the exhibition are also on the smaller side, with the bigger pieces being murals on movable walls welcoming visitors to the unique take on urban life.
For more information visit Map Contemporary.
- The exhibition opens tonight at 6pm and runs until September 28
- Once in Joburg is situated at 90 De Korte Street, Braamfontein
- The opening is part of First Thursday in Braamfontein