Andrew Boraine’s talk at the opening of Along these City Streets, an exhibition by Mary Visser, hightlights the themes that have emerged in her paintings.
I find these interesting and vital when considering our vision, not only for the Central City, but for the whole of Cape Town . The benefit of highlighting these various themes, is that once again we are reminded that there is not always only a single consideration, be it “heritage” or “green building”, to take into account when evaluating the development of our city.
Ideally, these considerations and themes should be explicitly stated in a broader City and Regional development strategy, and should be refined and tailored as our city evolves. Essentially, we need to move beyond agenda’s and the vocal one-track mindset which often prevails in Cape town.
The painting of a burned-out building in Loop Street (below) is the story of a group of African immigrants illegally occupying a building, resorting to the use of paraffin stoves and candles when the landlord cut the electricity supply in an attempt to force them to move out. Two people died in the fire –
Mary refers to number of themes that have emerged in her paintings for this exhibition, including security, heritage and belonging. These are all very pertinent to how we shape and develop and react to a city. For example:
- Security: Am I safe in this space? What can be done to make the streets safer – for residents and visitors, for workers, business owners, shoppers and street people alike? In several paintings, Mary depicts the members of the Central City Improvement District (below) who have worked tirelessly over the past ten years to ensure that our streets are clean and can be safely walked.
- Heritage: Who has walked these streets before? Who has lived here? Who designed and built these buildings? How do we balance new development and preservation? The ghosts of the city past, including the hidden histories and intangible memories hover behind the paintings, implying that a city is ever changing but at the same time, has a history, a tradition, has stories to tell.
- Belonging: Who do these streets belong to, during the day, at night? Who does the city belong to? The streets by day and by night are very different. For example, have a look at Anton Crone’s recent photographic essay on the Congolese car guards of Long Street, refugees from a distant conflict, many of them well educated, who ply their trade at night, and who are usually cursorily tipped, maybe sometimes thanked.
Along these City Streets, an exhibition by Mary Visser is currently on at the AVA Gallery at 35 Church Street, Cape Town