‘Everyone’s view of Jo’burg is valid’

Kutlwano Moagi’s exhibition Split Façades, curated by Thato Mogotsi, asks us to take another look at the heart of Johannesburg.

Evocative black-and-white images capture the beauty of the buildings reflected on car bonnets, behind gates and through windows. These buildings tower over those walking past and the hustle of Jo’burg life takes place beneath them. The work ­encourages us to be conscious of the dual ­realities that exist in Johannesburg — our unconscious and conscious experience of the city.

Kutlwano Moagi’s exhibition Split Facades, curated by Thato Mogotsi, asks us to take another look at the heart of Johannesburg.

How did you approach this body of work?
Moagi: I was interested in photographing the beautiful ­architecture around inner-city Johannesburg in my own way. My intention at first was not to capture people, but rather to let them walk into the frame and, if I liked what I saw, I snapped a ­photograph. When the curation ­process with Thato began, we looked at how the buildings and people interact with one another.

We realised there is this duality between the static nature of the façade and the movement of what’s happening at the street level where these overtly informal shops are part of the bustle. It made us question ­people’s ­relationship with the buildings, whether they have access to and are aware of them or whether they just pass them by.

How would you describe the mood of the images?
Mogotsi: Kutlwano’s technically brilliant use of black-and-white photography gives tangibility to the images. The compositions capture the multifaceted nature of ­downtown Jo’burg culture — you can’t use one adjective to describe it. It’s not held to history or even ­geography, but rather encompasses everything there is to African ­modern life.

Does the exhibition set out to address the gentrification of the inner city?
Moagi: Well, who is this development for? Is it for the people who live and work around here? Spaces like Arts on Main may be open to everyone, but you don’t see people from around here accessing it.

Mogotsi: It is as if a metaphysical barrier exists; people who live in the community around Arts on Main look into this space but won’t enter it, whereas visitors look out at the surrounding community with no predisposition to enter those spaces either. I am concerned that in ­gentrifying the city we are not taking advantage of and expanding spaces that already exist and are quintessentially African.

Why did you include the audiovisual element in the exhibition?
Mogotsi: We shot video and sound while driving in a taxi from one side of the city to the other. It was a way of bringing the public atmosphere and Jo’burg city environment into the experience of Kutlwano’s images.

Moagi: It encapsulates both the consciousness and unconsciousness of being in the city — how people might be looking out the window but their minds are somewhere else. I was often focusing so hard on composing the image that I also missed things I only became conscious of when revisiting the images.

Why do you think it is important to put this work out there?
Moagi: Well, people love Jo’burg. One lady on the opening night said to me that she’s never seen the city in this way, and I guess that is a plus if seeing Jo’burg through my eyes helps you see something else, something more. We all experience this city differently.

Mogotsi: I think that is central to the work — the idea that everyone’s view of Jo’burg is valid, no matter what it is. Whether you are looking up at a building or down at the street, inside or outside, whatever you choose to photograph and whatever premise you are working from, it is ­legitimate.

The exhibition is on until February 26 at Market on Main, Johannesburg.

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