Wits City Institute Student Exhibition

Home after Eviction

A Photographic Essay of Munsieville

Extracts from the Collection Still/Life, an exhibition hosted by the Wits City Institute

Bianca van Heerden is a photographer based in Johannesburg, completing her Master of Arts in Fine Arts at the Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand. She has a BA (Performing and Visual Arts) degree (2015) with majors in Psychology and Fine Art. She is a Wits City Institute Mellon Architecture, Urbanism and Humanities Master’s Fellow. Van Heerden was part of the Wits Roodepoort project curated by Rory Bester and Jo Ractliffe in collaboration with the Public Affairs Institute in 2015 and a Mellon Architecture, Urbanism and Humanities Master’s Fellow in 2017.

18 April 2018 /  Centre for Indian Studies in South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand

Words: Bianca van Heerden

Images: Bianca van Heerden (from Still/Life), photographs from exhibtion discussion Nocebo Bucibo

In preparation for final presentation, I collated a preview exhibition, titled Munsieville, of images drawn from the practical component of my dissertation for my Master of Arts in Fine Art qualification, at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA)on 18 April 2018. My dissertation examines how notions of ‘home’ and ‘identity’ constitute belonging in the Pangokamp, the informal extension of a section of Munsieville, in Krugersdorp. Munsieville is the oldest township in Krugersdorp, founded in 1903 under Ordinance 58 as a ‘Native Location’ (Khumalo, undated: 6-7). Identified as a ‘black spot’ in apartheid’s terms, many residents of Munsieville were relocated to form Kagiso in the 1990s as influx control laws broke down and Krugersdorp grew. Krugersdorp is a town that is part of a string of mining towns on the West Rand, where gold mines led to settlements being established west of South Africa’s sprawling metropolis of Johannesburg. In my presentation, I discussed the idea of homeliness that is asserted through the self-fashioning of homes in the space of the Pangokamp (ironically named after the African National Congress camp in exile in Angola) in Munsieville and how this is an indication of belonging. Since 2014, the group of people involved in my research have faced displacement and are now, in 2018, living in the space of the camp in a condition of permanence/impermanence. The dissertation and exhibition set out to explore their patterns of life and home-making, and to reflect on how this might challenge and question the manner in which they are and have been represented in the media.

The larger body of work from which this exhibition is drawn, titled Still/Life, consists of three different approaches to the Pangokamp that I have explored photographically: objects, portraits and still-life images. I have photographed objects that I encountered within homes in the camp, portraits of people within their homes, and still-life views of decorative arrangements that I came across when I visited people in their homes. Before I started this project I was aware of the manner in which the space called Coronation Park (allegedly the site of a Boer War concentration camp and later remodelled as a caravan park named for the coronation of Edward VII) and the Pangokamp were depicted in the media, and I wanted to find other ways of photographing aspects of the Pangokamp that one would not typically come across.  In images such as the series of pictures found in the Daily Mail (Burrows, 2016) and in the Mail & Guardian (O’ Reilly, 2010), the focus is placed on the living conditions of the people who live in the PangoKamp. This view is furthermore written into the titles of news reports where authors speak about white poverty being a result of discrimination, and the reports serve as self-proclaiming exposés of white poverty, to show the world how white South Africans are living in ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa. These conventions can be found across both the conservative and liberal news sources and display an interesting similarity in form and approach. This creative work intends to avoid these conventional media representations of residents of the PangoKamp.

The work is about home/camp, the re-establishment of home in Munsieville, and the representation of white poverty in the media. My interest in the Pangokamp began in 2013, when I met the residents of Coronation Park for the first time. Being an Afrikaner, I was interested in the living conditions as well as the camp dynamics within the ‘Park’. I started following media coverage about Coronation Park and the Pangokamp, paying attention to the images that were used to represent the community, and to the words that were selected in reports, including phrases such as ‘poor whites’, ‘white squatters’, and ‘reverse apartheid’, which regularly appeared in many of the local and international news reports. Many of the news articles are written in sympathetic tone, referring to the ‘plight of the poor white’. A similar approach was used in early documentary photography, as in the case of the US Farm Security Administration photographs most famously depicted by the Migrant Mother (1936), an image photographed by Dorothea Lange, one of the FSA’s leading photographers.

This led me to create the body of work titled Still/Life. The title, Still/Life, while a direct reference to the still-life mode in an artistic practice commonly associated with painting, is explicitly intended as a play on the words ‘Still’ and ‘Life’. This is where ‘Still’ indicates the idea of stillness and the camp, and ‘Life’ ultimately visually represents what it means to ‘be alive’ within the Pangokamp. The notion of ‘camping’ is ordinarily associated with stillness and a search for solitude. In the PangoKamp, people often feel disconnected to the outside world as many are unemployed and have no reason to leave the camp. As a child, my parents and I used to spend time camping in the hope of finding a place that is still, removed from people, where we could be in awe of nature. While camping, we used to live in a way that needed as little from the outside world as possible. We did not require electricity and used torches and a gas stove for cooking. This  same way of life is present in the camp, not out of the desire for leisure, but out of necessity. Throughout my research, I observed how the camp becomes the home, with intended qualities of the home as in the choice of layout and the expansion of the space. In some cases the home space is rearranged and in others, areas within the home are fixed.

This preview exhibition included three A2-sized still-life images, three A2 portraits, and nine 30x30cm images of found objects that I photographed in the Pangokamp from 2015 to 2017. Images were put up in a small, intimate room in the CISA. Each A2 image stood on its own, curated by me, and the nine 30x30cm images were hung in a grid.  In this mini-exhibition and brief seminar, I gave some context to my project and spoke about my process, and how the images came to be. After my short presentation, I opened the floor to questions. The visual anthropologist, photographer, and artist from the Wits Anthropology Department, George Mahashe, was invited to engage with the work. Mahashe, lecturer at Wits and PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town, commented on the visual qualities of my project, commending in particular the still-life images for referencing and resonating with the still-life tradition of the early Dutch masters, a view endorsed by others in the audience.

Wits School of Arts photographer and lecturer Natasha Christopher was concerned about the potential for exploitation in the presentation of portraiture, as there are many debates about the ethics of photographing poor or disadvantaged people. My colleague and fellow photographer and WCI Fellow Nocebo Bucibo suggested that the images lacked an experiential aspect, commenting that she wanted to ‘experience the space’. Bucibo suggested that the images needed to be accompanied by text, sound clips, or video clips to create a richer experience. The possibility of displaying news reports to add context was suggested by Melissa Myambo, who suggested that including these elements could provide deeper understandings of the space and my approach to it. Murray, with her involvement in the writing of Munsieville (2018), drew attention to the spatial context of the project, and the critical importance and relevance of historical terms such as the name ‘Coronation’ Park and the use of Pangokamp as the name for the area to which residents of Coronation Park were moved.

I would like to thank the Wits City Institute for allowing me this opportunity to showcase some of my work at the second term Fellows Tea in 2018, and for the opportunity to receive feedback on my work. I thank CISA Director Professor Dilip Menon for his generosity in allowing me space to exhibit.

The final exhibition for examination will be shown in the Munsieville Community Hall at the end of May 2018

References 

Khumalo, V. (undated).Kagiso Historical report’. Available at: http://www.mogalecity.gov.za/tourism-144/brief-history (Accessed 28 February 2018).

Burrows, T. (2016). ‘The ‘White squatter camps’ of South Africa: Shanty towns built after the fall of Apartheid are now home to hundreds of families’. DailyMail. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3462336/The-white-squatter-camps-South-Africa-home-hundreds-families-enduring-terrible-poverty-blame-fall-Apartheid.html (Accessed: 5 February 2017).

O’ Reilly. (2010). Tough Times for White South African Squatters. Available At: https://mg.co.za/article/2010-03-26-tough-times-for-white-south-african-squatters. (Accessed: 4 February 2018).