to ephemeral monuments. kofifi, beauty. I – waiting for him. abrahams/fink. 2012. (oh, we love this.)
last friday i went with amazing photographer mike abrahams on a stroll through sophiatown, the iconic suburb in the west of johannesburg, which represents a palimpsest of at times blurring, at times stubborn boundaries of in/visible pasts and presents. beauty haunts it as much as the horror of loss due to the forced removals of the late 1950s, and the forgetfulness of today, sharply contrasting the contemporary ueberbau of a superficial rhetoric of commemoration and memoria. this is global.
in many a bleak corner of today’s sophiatown – located right next to westbury and westdene, interimly known as ‘triomf’ – beauty used to reside. beyond the security architecture of today’s residential plots lies the story of a book written into being, the trace of a composition, a political idea, a vision for an united afrika, a songline leading to harlem and back, a love transgressing the binaries of the time. a sentiment, an air of freedom, joy, and practised humanity. pride. the desire to rise beyond mediocrity. because we can, and have to. what do we remember, what do we forget?
we marked these spaces, entry points into larger contexts of place and history, with the elusive monument of a red dress in the morning breeze, which evokes stories, perhaps a longing, perhaps a memory. yet sophiatown in all its stages teaches us to look beyond the assumed bias of past and present, of group identities, of here and there, and also beyond shallow nostalgia for an always afar, and thereby easy to immobilize ‘past’. many corners of today’s sophiatown only look bleak from afar. in the stories which unfold, once the fragmentary condition of our lives is revealed – by a curious look, a question, a comment, a smile evoked by the silky red dress dangling in the most quotidian spaces which once mattered due to different reasons- the beauty of the unexpected resides. and makes stories meet, enables conversations that go beyond our ignorance for one another, performed on a daily basis and framed as civic.
so here’s to the trust in the aesthetics, in the hauntings of beauty. here’s to the house that raised miriam tlali’s literary voice, and to the traces of a tree that once mattered. here’s to ghostly matters (as avery puts it), to the thousands a rugby field once hosted to talk about resistance, to afrikan intellectuals who taught the world a thing or two about living a straightforward and dignified life, and to the sheer, mean beauty of the imagination, of what could be. utopia, for real.
i am grateful for the experiences in sophiatown, for its stories, for another and another one of those “unwritten manuscript(s)”, as don mattera puts it, but more than all that jazz i am honoured and humbled by its residents, citizens of the world, and their stories of resilience, freedom, their sense of beauty, desire for liberation, and humour. it is in honour of these stories and experiences that we made beauty appear on a chilly morning, autumn getting ready to rockNroll the highveld.
to ephemeral monuments. kofifi, beauty. II – traces: bertha street oak tree. abrahams/fink 2012. (we love this, too).
(proper write/up and series of images coming soon. for now, i want to share the ghostly beauty of bright blue skies and other times, and the ephemeral quality of traces and re/membering.)