‘Art gets under people’s skin’

Un/Settled is a project by artist Sydelle Willow Smith.

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Professor Pather said Infecting the City was started 12 years ago to make art accessible to all, and every event, whether on the street, in a gallery or in a museum, would be free to the public.

“We believe public debate is healthy, but we are not naive about what happened. Art gets under people’s skin sometimes because it is provocative.”

Ms Smith said she was not fazed by the defacing of the public exhibition on whiteness, as it was an expression of engagement in a conversation which the country needed to have.

“Unlike an art gallery, there is a rawness to having your art in a public environment like the gardens. For me, it is an expression of unspoken anger around the lack of honest conversations about identity and race in South Africa.

“There has been a dangerous use of Simunye we are one, the rainbow nation myth, stronger together, rugby is going to save everything; without looking underneath, looking at the realities of how unequal society is.”

She said as someone who grew up in the years just after apartheid ended, she was told repeatedly that she was a child of the rainbow nation.

“Yet, in South Africa, our relationships are largely mediated – affected, limited, constrained, corroded, delineated – by race. The history of white people on this soil is one so violent and greedy that I am required to justify my continued presence here as a white person, and as a photographer.

“However, this project is not a didactic speech or a proclamation. Un/Settled is a place of vulnerability, and also a place of curiosity. It is a record of a moment in our collective history worth recording, whose origins lie somewhere behind and among us, that can only be disrupted through honest engagement.”

The images in Government Avenue near the rose garden show participants of all walks of life and heritage, young and old.

Ms Smith said she had included symbolic images of landscapes, reflecting ideas of ownership and dominion over land, history and place that are linked to the origins of settler colonialism and the continued sense of entitlement that many white South Africans carry with them.

“The project is participatory. The process I am both recording and undergoing – cannot be isolated from the world in which it happens: it is a conversation on many fronts,
and the nature of that conversation will over time shape the work profoundly which is why I am publicly exhibiting the project.”

The City condemned any act of vandalism on public art, and said Ms Smith or any artist who had experienced this and wished to take it further could open a case with the police.

Iziko declined to comment on the matter. The artwork will be up until January 2020.