Yolisa’s latest blog examines the motives and relevance behind the Open House public art installation in Cape Town …

A few months ago I was walking up Long Street when I spotted a double-story red building that looked like a polished but unfinished house.

The plaque said it was commissioned by local government as part of their art initiative

I spent three years in high school studying western art. We went from the Renaissance to Mondrian then no further. To save you a Google click, he’s the guy whose paintings look like the L’Oreal studio line ads.

Also falling under the umbrella of art that I find incomprehensible are those bizarre public statues

SculptureDoes anyone in Cape Town remember that weird statue in St Georges Mall with the Bart Simpson heads sticking out of it? Definitely odd!

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So when I saw Open House I became low-key excited.

Firstly I was glad it was something I could recognise. Mostly I really liked the fact that it was a space available to the public to use as they see fit. Another win in my books.

It was only a few days later, when I started researching, that I became less than satisfied and the questions started forming.

1. Where is the representation here?

According to the Western Cape Government website, this installation was awarded to the winner of a competition to create artwork that commemorated twenty years of democracy.

Which makes me wonder why they chose an old white man as the winner. Surely there are artists of colour, especially younger ones who would have been more representative of the majority of the population and could have benefited from the exposure?

2. Is this artist missing a sensitivity chip?

On the first page of his website the artist describes his house in Riebeck Kasteel as a “white man’s shack”. So this person (who is clearly privileged in so many ways) thinks that using poverty porn to promote himself and his work is acceptable in a country where millions live in shacks  – not as an artistic statement but because they have no choice ?

3. Why does the above surprise me?

It is well known that Cape Town’s reputation as a tourist mecca and international draw card is based purely on the marketing of formerly white areas.

The scenic Atlantic seaboard, the wine farms on stolen land and the trendy hipster restaurants in the CBD all feature prominently in the glossy brochures.

On the official Cape Town Tourism website the places where the majority of black and brown citizens live get mentioned in passing as, “The Cape Flats, the low-lying area just to the north of Cape Town, is one of the city’s most edgy, colourful and creative places.”

Imagine all the pain of people who were violently displaced by the Group Areas Act being completely erased as they are now a byline for Caucasian inspiration.

I’ve lived in Cape Town my whole life so none of this is surprising. Annoying, vexing? Yes. But not a surprise anymore.