We build this city on rock 'n gold

Walky-talky is part of the City of Gold Diggers exhibition by Johannesburg design duo Jana + Koos.

Walky-talky is part of the City of Gold Diggers exhibition by Johannesburg design duo Jana + Koos.

Like many people living in Johannesburg, concept design duo Jana + Koos (Jana Hamman and Koos Groenewald) grew up elsewhere.

Describing the city they now call home, they say: “It’s not an easy place to make it in, but it’s one that is rewarding in unexpected and sneaky ways.”

With the golden city as their inspiration, the pair are currently presenting a collection of work titled City of Gold Diggers at the Open Gallery Space in New York City.

The exhibition forms part of Foreign Neighbors – an initiative headed by Nader Rajab, which aims to create closer creative neighbourhoods. Making up the show are works in the mediums of mixed media, photography, graphic-design digital prints, installation and video art.

The title of the exhibition alludes to Hamman and Groenewald’s belief that the new “gold” of Johannesburg is the people who live in the city and the things they are doing.

Concept evolution 
The exhibition evolved from a previous one, Gold, which showed at the Room Gallery in Braamfontein in 2012. One of the first ideas they had for the project was to take the famous “I Love NY” slogan and localise it to read “JHB Hates You”.

This idea kickstarted the entire body of work, and Hamman and Groenewald believe that it encapsulates the spirit of the city as well as the exhibition.

Banana, one of the works in Jana + Koos’s City of Gold Diggers exhibition.

“Once you get to know Johannesburg,” Hamman and Groenewald explain, “you end up loving it as much as it seemingly doesn’t try to love you back.”

City of Gold Diggers is Jana + Koos’s take on a place that the pair love despite – and for – all its faults and idiosyncrasies.

“It’s a funny place,” they say, “one that generally leaves us laughing (often as a reaction to shock or being uncomfortable) and ...
our take on it will always be tongue-in-cheek.”

Humorous responses
Their humorous responses range from a photograph of chicken feet sporting gold rings to a banana painted gold and covered with glitter – all of which communicate their (perhaps unrequited) love for the city of Johannesburg.

Although the work is varied in terms of both theme and execution, all of it is inspired by Hamman and Groenewald’s day-to-day experiences in and around the city. They regard Johannesburg as a “jumble of contradictions, and as a city which is still trying to figure itself out.”

It is this flux that influences them daily, and forms the root of most of their personal projects.

Through their exploration, Hamman and Groenewald have come to realise that there is much more to Johannesburg than meets the eye and, as such, have endeavoured to make this clear to their audience in New York City.

Their unique perspective shows that: “The City of Gold Diggers is diverse – it’s mine dumps, daylight robbery, champagne and pangas, capped teeth, beautiful sunsets over Tuscan-style villas, fake celebrities, high contrasts and faraway beats.

“It’s walking, and talking, and getting lost.” And this is why we love it.

For more information, visit groenewald-hamman.tumblr.com.

This article is adapted from an interview with the artist that first appeared on the creative showcase site Between 10and5.

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