Exhibition won’t be moved

The exhibition titled Un/Settled will remain in the Companys Garden despite the work being defaced.

An artwork that was defaced with faeces and markers has been cleaned up, and the exhibition will stay in the Company’s Garden, said curator of the Infecting the City Festival, Professor Jay Pather.

Infecting the City is a public art festival taking place all over the city this week.

Professor Pather, who is also the director at UCT’s Institute for Creative Art, said the photograph had been cleaned up but “it will definitely not be moved”.

The artwork, by CBD photographer Sydelle Willow Smith, is titled Un/Settled, and opened on Thursday November 7 as part of Infecting the City.

The project, which explores “whiteness” in South Africa, is the culmination of five years conversations, portraits, and interviews put together by Ms Smith, sometimes with writer Olivia Walton.

She had been notified on Tuesday November 12 that someone had rubbed human faeces all over her photo boards and written the word “fools” on the work.

Professor Pather said the work was not meant to be pretty. “We believe in public debate, and some people find it difficult to take it in. Public art isn’t new to the continent, but it is very powerful, and we deal with issues that are important, and we will keep doing it no matter what.”

He 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, will 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 is an expression of engagement in a conversation which the country needs 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.