Post-apartheid Public Art in Cape Town: Symbolic Reparations and Public Space

Zayd Minty

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Minty, Z. (1). Post-apartheid Public Art in Cape Town: Symbolic Reparations and Public Space. Urban Studies, 43(2), 421–440.

This essay considers public art practice in post-apartheid Cape Town within the notion of symbolic reparations—a concept deriving out of South Africa’s Trust Reconciliation Commission. The paper situates developments in public arts practice in the context of developments in cultural politics in South Africa and globally. More especially, it discusses new genre arts projects, which focus on a range of issues related to identity, space and place. The projects—the District Six Museum, District Six Sculpture Project, PTO, Y30, BLAC, Returning the Gaze, and the In Touch Poetry Bus Tour—focus on issues such as rethinking monuments, the memorialising of ‘hidden histories’, engagements with racism and the abuse of power, and the reimagining of the city. The paper asks how these contemporary and often ephemeral projects, critically engage with issues of history, geography, memory and transformation and, in so doing, mark the landscape of Cape Town, making spaces for dialogue and/or standing as poetic symbols and challenges to the inequalities of the city.

Main finding
Through the lens of symbolic reparations, the author demonstrates how the seven new genre/community art projects reclaim the city in different ways by initiating a communal healing process and critically engaging with local memories - such as the 90-piece public sculpture project recognizing the forced removal of people from the District Six inner-city neighborhood. This type of work is historically rooted in uses of culture as a form of civic-oriented resistance. The new genre art includes the rethinking of monumental projects, memorializing erased histories, engagements with racism, and overall reimaging the city in Cape Town’s post-apartheid atmosphere. This transformation and the rethinking of property ownership, through land restitution, along with notions of empowerment and symbolic restitution affect public space by opening up possibilities that could radically reimagine the city such that public space also becomes a symbolic space capable of creating new relationships and ways of interacting.

Description of method used in the article
The author doesn’t explicitly state a research method, but the work does imply participant observation of and other forms of documentation of the seven new genre art projects discussed. This may also be inclusive of archival research about the artists and their work and potentially interviews with those involved with the projects. Additionally, there is evidence of archival research documenting the history of the city and its racist policies plus efforts from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Archival / Historical Participant Observation
Physical types
Geographic locations