I was first introduced to the works of Gideon Mendel during the Rise and Fall of Apartheid earlier this year. His imagery of Yeoville brought to life the stories of my friend Sarienne Kersh reminiscing of her early days in Hillbrow as a young woman. This is Hillbrow in the 1960s and 1970s. I drive through Hillbrow on my way to and from work daily, and I cannot imagine the romance with which she describes it. As a tertiary student I've spent time in Yeoville, and it was still not as it "used to be" I am told. I walk through Yeoville today presents an entirely different resident; and public space.
We all look back at our childhood days with a great deal of sentimentality; and this showing certainly documents that. Much of South Africa's historical pictures in the late 1980s and early 1990s are marred by images of extreme violence and sadness. So much of our history is rooted in violence: the lawful perpetuation thereof, or the internal rage that saw subjugated peoples meting out violent acts against each other.
What this exhibition illustrates is a window into small pockets of South Africa not much touched by Apartheid, or at least to a lesser (and perhaps a less frequent) degree. We are introduced to a Yeoville knee deep in the hedonism that was indicative of the 1980s, stone washed jeans with pleats at the hip and all. Of note is the series that represents scenes outside a nightclub or pub. We see people coming in and out, slightly buzzed, mostly tipsy, all the while ignoring or half heartedly interacting with the street kids begging for money outside the doors. He includes in the presentation a short film, Living in Yeoville backed up by a Jazz-y soundtrack including ambient sounds: some screeches of delight, footprints fast and slow, slurred speech and general talking. The soundtrack puts it all into perspective for you: allowing you to experience the audible texture that is Yeoville.
I particularly spent some time with the series of works that represented candid shots of groups of people in daily scenes of people going about the business of living: waiting for the bus, or in a queue at the OK Bazaars. Remember how big it was back in the day?!
There are also subtle shifts of the ever-present shadow of Apartheid: park scenes of black children and white children at a merry go round, black and white customers at the supermarket, and the old black woman on a bench with a old man white man waiting for a bus; sharing the same bench, yet each clinging to their side of the bench.
This is perhaps not as topically heavy an exhibition as we've seen in this year, and to be honest, throughout the showing one kind of hopes for a little weight. But life is not all topic heavy and racial solemnity. There are moments of delight, and light moments that make South African life enchanting living. We have come to be accustomed to the heaviness that is Apartheid, we deserve moments of delight in our most recent past.
A truly nostalgic journey!
Yeoville Revisited was showing at Gallery MOMO until 24 November, 2014
Image from Gideon Mendel