EXHIBITION: City Desired

From 30 October – 10 December 2014, the African Centre for Cities (ACC), in collaboration with the City of Cape Town and various partners, will mount a wide- ranging exhibition on the very soul of Cape Town and South African cities in general. This exhibition will offer Cape Town residents and visitors a penetrating insight into the challenges and possibilities facing South African cities; dynamics that echo in cities across the world as they contemplate their purpose in this urban century. This is a first of its kind exhibition ever put up on any African city.

The exhibition is titled City Desired. The title cues the inescapable contradictions and tensions that typify Cape Town (and most South African cities) dominating the form and dynamics of the city’s built environment. Poor residents are confined to mono-class residential areas labelled townships and informal settlements. Lower middle-class suburbs have de-racialised to a considerable extent but this is less evident in upper middle-class areas. Residential divisions are further mirrored in the education and health systems whereby the middle-classes can afford to buy excellent services whereas the poor are forced to rely on over-stretched and under-resourced public systems, further reproducing the class, race and cultural divides of the city.

Yet, there are so much more to Cape Town and other South African cities than just a story of inequity and divisions. Across all walks of life and places of residence and work, ordinary people are getting on with the business of life, love and aspiration. Even though it impossible to ignore the blatant divides in the city, most routine interactions are characterized by openness, generosity, goodwill, humour, and a willingness to experience new ways of being together in the city. In this we see a shared desire for an alternate future. This desire is most actively activated with regard to the prospects of children as parents invest every possible penny into attaining quality education; but it is also evident in the investment residents make into other attachments – be they religious, communal or familial, cultural or institutional. There is also a genuine interest in how they can access and activate the city.

Confronting and using the tension between what divides people and the shared desire for alternatives is at the heart of the exhibition. The city’s story will be unveiled through well- crafted biographical narratives that offer powerful insights into the minutia of daily life, points of convergence and interaction. Mapping and visualisation will allow the participant to contextualize the narratives while other mediums that include photography, video, and tactile models will be utilised to make this learning journey as compelling and moving as possible.

Leading up to the exhibition, a variety of creative projects will be undertaken. Three “Density Syndicates” hosted by ACC and theInternational New Town Institute (INTI) to tackle the issue of density, exploring the viability of audacious and grounded visions for how we can re-think settlement and neighbourhoods in Cape Town. Another initiative is an interactive programme titled “Serious Fun” to engage different age groups through various form of play in exploring what they think about their neighbourhoods and how they can be transformed to resemble their desires for the future. In these ways, the formal exhibition will be animated with the desires of residents who are willing to act on hope and activism.