Shoe Shop strides its way into inner-city Jozi
German curator and scholar Marie-Hélène Gutberlet writes in the recently published book Shoe Shop that one of her first impressions of Johannesburg was that walking was not something white people did. One day, while walking in Parktown North, a white man in a van stopped and “asked me where I was headed. Apparently, I was not supposed to be walking on the street, even in a ‘safe’ suburb such as this one.”
Shoe Shop is a concept linked to a project, Migration and Media, which started in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. After Frankfurt, the project moved to Bamako, Mali, after which it tracked down to Johannesburg.
Shoe Shop is a festival that “will address walking and movement as literal and conceptual spaces”. It boasts various components, including a space, eponymously titled Shoe Shop, a photography workshop, a series of lectures and short presentations, artist walks and performances, a film programme and film workshop and the aforementioned publication, co-edited with the Goethe Institut’s Cara Snyman, that includes interviews, essays or both by Andries Walter Oliphant, Thabiso Sekgala, Joan Legalalamitlwa, Penny Siopsis and Musa Nxumalo.
The Mail & Guardian spoke to Gutberlet soon after she arrived from Germany.
The sprightly curator, showing no evidence of fatigue after an 11-hour flight, said the project was about showing migration without its usual coefficients of war, violence and criminality.
“Walking is not a private thing; to walk around is to share a space,” she said. “Public space is a tense and fragile thing in South Africa.”
This has roots in the country’s past. Indeed, artist David Koloane is quoted in the book’s introduction: “Apartheid was a politics of space more than anything else. Much of apartheid legislation was denying people the right to move. It is about space, restricting space.” A subtext of this work is the history of migration to the city and the transnational migration that has occurred over the years, reaching its peak in the past decade.
But instead of looking at narratives of migration in the exalted, tortured or obscurantist way a scholar or a bureaucrat would—choose the most suitable—the project looks at movement at its most basic level: the step, the shoe.
What we have is people walking, strolling, strutting. Instead of a bureaucrat telling us how many Zimbabweans have come to settle in South Africa or how depopulated the former homelands have now become, we have a less hierarchical approach.
We have “actual” people saying something such as “my story is about movement” or “my neighbours moved out” even when movement does not require any physical exertion, such as when someone says “I have been moved by this idea”.
The Shoe Shop festival is like an unfenced property, allowing for entry from any direction.
Conceptual artists and academics, writers and photo-graphers contributed to the open brief with varying and, at times, interesting results. Architect and artist Doung Anwar Jahangeer kicks off proceedings in the book with a personal and political meditation on liminality. As a “Mauritian-born Creole, but Muslim-raised male of Indian descent living in South Africa”, he is neither “the one nor the other”.
And then we wade into Siopsis’s piece, “The hooks of history: three films”, in which she lays down her artistic practice and her interest in “other people’s home movies”. She writes that found footage works for her as a “kind of ready-made — already inscribed with meaning”.
From the footage she creates “new films that bear no empirical relationship to their original context or content”.
Other interesting work comes from Jodi Bieber, whose black-and-white photographs show the bleakness of illegal migrants and the impersonal and mechanical hand of the repatriation process.
Capetonian journalist and filmmaker Max Annas writes that sometimes the question is not where you want to go, but more about just leaving.
In a fascinating piece titled “To France or Wherever: The Blue Notes and Their Exile in Europe”, he writes about the band (Nick Moyake, Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Louis Moholo, Mongezi Feza and Johnny Dyani) whose career in South Africa was not going anywhere because it included a white man, McGregor, who was also the band’s pianist, which meant that playing at gigs was almost impossible because of the Group Areas Act. Linked to this story was that of another band in the United States comprising Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, who made a pilgrimage to Paris, fleeing the rather straitened scene in their homeland.
After an hour of speaking to Gutberlet, I asked her whether she had a final statement to make about her project. “I want everyone to come on Sunday for the march,” she said about a planned inner-city event at which everyone is invited to follow the Alexandra Field Band from the Shoe Shop in Braamfontein to the Drill Hall in Joubert Park.
Hopefully, the event will reflect Gutberlet’s own words in the foreword to the book and the public will “Step, tread, pace, stride, stroll, saunter, strut, stalk, prance, mince, tiptoe, trip, skip, dance, leap” in harmony with the city.