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Gay and Lesbian memory in action

Joburg Tracks:
Sexuality in the City

Nature of the project: With funding from the CWCI, Joburg Tracks is a site-specific exhibition that looks at Johannesburg and its history through the lens of its gay and lesbian inhabitants, as seen from the vantage point of Constitution Hill and constitutional equality. Using extraordinary archive and photographs by David Goldblatt, Zanele Muholi, Sabelo Mlangeni and others, the exhibition focuses on eight people, ranging from Edgar Dlamini, a 70-year-old married Sowetan, to Vanya Maseko, a 24-year-old transsexual model. Curated by Mark Gevisser and designed by Clive van den Berg

Produced in collaboration with TRACE and Constitution Hill. Curated by Mark Gevisser with Zethu Mathebeni. Designed by Clive van den Berg with LIB.CO.ZA.

Home Affairs

Nature of project: Initiated by trace with funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation, Home Affairs is an exhibition and dialogue programme that examines the history and significance of the passage of the Civil Unions Act in December 2006, which made South Africa the fifth country in the world to legitimate same-sex marriage. At the Apartheid Museum till September the exhibition examines the different ways that people love, form relationships and make families. In the outer circle of the exhibition, we meet seven families, and examine the different forms that “family” takes in South Africa; in the inner circle, we look at the personal artifacts and photographs of ten same-sex couples who have been married –or who have considered getting married—since the Civil Union Act was passed. The exhibition aims to create greater understanding of what ‘family’ means in South Africa, and to provoke debate on the effects of constitutional equality and the Civil Union Act. Produced in collaboration with TRACE and curated by Sharon Cort and designed by Clive van den Berg with Hans Foster.

“The launching of the GALA Heritage Project recognizes, documents and reminds us [of] the progress made thus far towards a more egalitarian and inclusive society. The values entrenched in our Constitution cannot be allowed to be ideals in the abstract – they have to be manifest in the experiences of other people, especially the marginalized sections in our society. We cannot go back!” - Chief Justice Pius Langa, opening the exhibitions, Saturday May 24, The Apartheid Museum.

  Constitution Hill

Constitution Hill:
Feasibility Study and Business Plan
2003 - 2004

In 2002, the Johannesburg Development Agency appointed a team to undertake the feasibility study and business plan for the heritage, education and tourism aspects of Constitution Hill. Constitution Hill is the new home of the Constitutional Court built on the site of the Old Fort Prison Complex, better known as Number Four. The challenge was to develop the prison buildings into a thriving mixed-use complex of heritage sites and museums, exhibition and performance spaces. The key question the team asked was how to make this site – a dark hole in the centre of our city – available to the public and legible to visitors? The ultimate vision was for Constitution Hill to become a place where every South African would come, even if only once in their lives, to touch the essence of what it means to be South African.
The Feasibility and Business Plan set out to develop a heritage and spatial policy and vision, a tourism strategy, the financial and institutional model, a vision for heritage, education and tourism as well as exhibition policies and the creation of the visitor experience. Mark was the co-leader of the feasibility study process.

World Summit of Sustainable Development:
Exhibitions and Documentation Room, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg

During preparations for the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD), it was suggested that Constitution Hill become part of the tourist route in Johannesburg. The recently appointed heritage team jumped at the opportunity to give the public a chance to interact with the space – despite Constitution Hill being a building site and unknown as a tourist destination. The strategy was to make the site’s very growth a spectacle and a talking point.

Three exhibitions were mounted in different spaces throughout the site. The exhibition in the entrance tunnel beneath the ramparts paid tribute to the masses of prisoners who had passed through the tunnel. The exhibition mounted at the vantage point of the ramparts gave visitors a physical and conceptual orientation to the site. Large images from the site’s history as well as from the Constitution were printed on transparent fabric and relevant quotes from the Constitution stood in juxtaposition with the image. The idea was to use the history of the Fort and the Constitution as a prism through which to view the site and Johannesburg from this particular vantage point.

The Three Women exhibition – an installation in silk, photographs and sound – told the stories of three women who spent time at the Women’s Jail: Daisy de Melker, Nomathemba Constance Funani and Jeannie Noel – a murderer, an ordinary woman spurred to become a pass resister and a political activist from Durban respectively.

The Documentation Room was an archive exhibit where visitors could examine the architectural and urban design for Constitution Hill. The memory room was a private space that allowed visitors to record either their own experiences in the prison or their responses to the site in development.

Constitution Square Hoardings

The rationale for the exhibition of large scale poster-size faces of women ex-prisoners on the hoardings of Constitution Square was twofold. Firstly, forming the western edge of Constitution Square, the hoardings were a very visible and prominent space on site. Attention was immediately drawn to this area as the visitors entered Constitution Square and this surface therefore provided a perfect opportunity to create an exhibition with high visual impact.

Secondly, the Women's Jail was under construction at the time that the site was opened to the public in 2003. The curatorial team felt it important to make sure that there women ex-prisoners were none the less present in some way on site. The photographs of the women and the quotes that appear on the hoardings were drawn from the workshops of the women ex-prisoners who returned to the site to share their stories with us. The hoarding exhibition was the first step towards displaying the memories and reclaiming the dignity of these women, prioir to the opening of the permanent exhibition in the Women's Jail.

Number Four

The main exhibition was ultimately developed in Number Four, the prison for sentenced, black male prisoners. This prison – which is the dark heart of the site – was in a state of complete ruin. Decisions had to be made as to how the buildings were to be preserved and how exhibitions were to tell the story of the brutality of the jail. A curatorial policy was adopted and the design principles were established. The exhibition worked closely with the ex-prisoners to develop the exhibition narrative and to design the exhibits. Mark was content director for this exhibition.

Women’s Jail

The Women's Jail at Constitution Hill is the first museum in the country that is devoted to telling the story of the prison experiences of women during the colonial and apartheid era. The notorious jail housed struggle icons, criminals as well as thousands of ordinary women, arrested simply because of the colour of their skin. Through the stories of ex-prisoners and warders, the exhibition explores the resistance of resilience of women and the role that women played in the struggle for freedom and democracy in this country. The exhibition prompts questions about present-day issues, particularly concerning gender in South Africa, so that the past becomes a powerful tool for interpreting the present landscape as well as the future.

The exhibition is housed in different parts of the old Jail building that has now become part of a mixed-use human rights precinct. Two new buildings stand in the old courtyard of the Jail and house the Commission on Gender Equality and other Chapter Nine organisations. A visit to the Jail is a unique experience – it provides both a sense of the brutal past as well as a sense of hope and optimism for the protection of democratic rights and values in the future.

Part of the challenge for the exhibition team was to work closely with heritage experts and the architects to ensure that a careful balance was maintained between restorations of the building, maintaining the ambiance of the prison and allowing the spaces to tell the brutal stories of incarceration. Mark was content director for this exhibition.
  Articles and Interviews:

Affairs of the Heart
Mail & Guardian, May 2008

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