My first outing outside the studio was to Lillieslief – a farm in Johannesburg where Mandela and other senior leaders of the liberation movement hid out and planned resistance actions. The early ANC was affiliated with the Communist Party and they are the ones who purchased the farm and set up a white family in the main house to act as a cover for the rebels hiding out in the outbuildings. Eventually their cover was blown and they were captured and jailed. The Rivonia trials spared them a death sentence, but inflicted life imprisonment sentences on Mandela and many others. The farm in recognized as a national heritage site.
My sister, Marge arrived a week into my stay. During the times when the plates I was working on for William Kentridge were resting, I dashed out of the studio to take in a little of the sights of Johannesburg.
Our first stop was the Apartheid Museum. This museum tells the story of the state sanctioned system based on racial discrimination, the awful history of racial segregation and oppression and the struggle of the majority to overthrow this system of tyranny. One experiences the history through images, words, film, and expertly made reconstructions and displays. It was a very visceral experience. I had been very aware of the horrors of apartheid since a college student. (I was arrested for protesting the UC regents investments in South Africa during the apartheid era.) But it was always an abstraction to me. Being further educated about it in this country deepened my understanding.
One of the things that amazes me the most is that reconciliation was even possible. Mandela’s commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation avoided a civil war and made the new South Africa possible. The reverence for Nelson Mandela is deep and wide. From the museum guides, to the Uber drivers, they all credit this one man for forging the path forward in this severely wounded country. There is even a name for anyone born after Mandela’s release from prison. They are called the free born.
I also paid a visit to the David Krut Projects printmaking studio in the neighborhood of Maboneng. It’s a couple block long arts district that holds a street market on Sundays.
Master printer Jill Ross was in my workshop at Artist Proof and invited me to the studio where she prints for many artists including William Kentridge, Diane Victor and Aida Muluneh, to name just a few. Jill was so welcoming, and very interested in implementing the processes she learned in the workshop into the practice at David Krut. She took me out for a fantastic Ethiopian lunch.
On another outing Marge and I went to the Mai Mai market. It’s the traditional healers’ market in the heart of the city. Marge is an herbalist and was interested in seeing the herbal medicines of South Africa. We were accompanied on this visit by two of the students from Artist Proof to be our interpreters, body guards and tour guides. The market was incredible! Hundreds of vendors with mats full of plants, roots, animal body parts, potions and more. We spoke to a few healers but were quickly apprehended and questioned about our motives. They are fiercely protective of their indigenous knowledge, and rightly so. We guaranteed the we weren’t there to abscond with secrets and bought some items to get permission to wander and look. But we were told we couldn’t ask more questions or take any more pictures.
We wanted to buy the young men lunch, so went to the “food court” section of the market – they wanted a speciality – cow’s head and pap (corn meal). The food was cooked on an open fire on the pavement and served on reclaimed slabs of wood. Because we had to catch our ride back to the studio, Tobago and Mosa took their food to go and we missed out on sampling. The whole experience was amazing.
Our last outing before leaving Johannesburg was to the Cradle of Humankind. The Cradle of Humankind, one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, is renowned as the place where humankind originated. It is here that the first hominid, Australopithecus, was found in 1924. We toured the museum and went to to the caves where the fossils were found.
This country is an amazing place. Full of stark contrasts and warm hearted people.