02 Dec Reading South Africa’s Cities Through the Prism of Movement
For the past two years, Zahira Asmal has spearheaded an in-depth exploration of movement in three of South Africa’s cities. The project was introduced with a posterzine about Durban, followed by the launch of Movement Johannesburg last week. This publication shows that despite barriers to movement and the stark inequalities that exist, people in Jozi have always kept moving. The City of Gold is dynamic, charged and alive.
Today The City Agency is launching Movement Cape Town at Gallery MOMO. This edition is all about contrasts in a city where deep historical scars and divisions remain present alongside wealthy residents and international tourists. However, creative movements and experimentation are what keeps the Mother City moving despite this.
Curious to find out more about the fascinating Movement project, we spoke with Zahira Asmal and her co-editor Guy Trangoš about the collaborative process behind the publications, and some of the insights they gained along the way.
What is it about movement that creates cities? And how did you become interested in this topic to begin with?
Zahira Asmal: Cities may be read entirely through the prism of movement. They are created through movement and we continue to shape cities through the movements we make daily – be they spatial, social, political, cultural or economic movements. I am interested in urbanisation and the movement of people – forced or voluntary – for work, learning, love and a better life. I am particularly interested in the insights that can be acquired about the movements – past and present – in order to make more informed movements in the future.
This project was a highly collaborative one. How did you select the people who contributed to the publications?
ZA: Over a period of time working on projects for The City and DESIGNING_SOUTHAFRICA I met phenomenal people doing groundbreaking and interesting work. I observed their movements, and I learned about the impact that these movements were having on South African society. I approached these movers and shakers to join me on this movement journey. I selected the themes and subtopics, and together with Guy Trangoš and Uno de Waal (in Johannesburg) and Ilze Wolff and Rashiq Fataar (in Cape Town), invited our movement contributors to submit essays, thought pieces, artworks, and illustrations or to join us in conversation about their respective movements.
Contributors include architects, designers, illustrators, politicians, musicians, academics and other urban individuals making, shaping and observing movements in the respective cities – I engaged with approximately 105 people to publish Movement.
Tell us more about the process. How long have the publications been in the making, and what did it involve to put them together?
ZA: 2 years from concept to completion. The City published three publications, a posterzine last year for Durban, which was presented at the UIA Congress, and a book each for Cape Town and Johannesburg. I edited all three publications and was joined by architect and researcher, Guy Trangoš in Johannesburg. Ilze Wolff joined me as contributing editor for Movement Cape Town. All our publications commenced with a concept and invitation to collaborate. After the concept was fleshed out, I sought funding for the project. The South African Cities Network supported the Movement project with a research grant and the City of Cape Town provided funding for the publication of Movement Cape Town. The Gauteng City-Region Observatory provided support with research and valuable data as well as funding. Once the subthemes were in places, the editors met with contributors in each city and thereafter individually.
Once submissions were in we proceeded to feedback, edit, subedit, commission artworks and illustrations together with the designer. From there, we were in layout, proof reading, further feedback to contributors, more editing, final design, layout and print. Now we are in the marketing and launch phase of the book.
We are planning “Movement Experiences” in March / April 2016 where we will bring the chapters of the Movement books to life in the respective cities. Thereafter we are looking to travel and take key movement concepts to different parts of South Africa and the world. Our previous book, Reflections & Opportunities, was presented in 17 cities globally.
Who did you work with on the design? What was important to this process?
ZA: When I conceptualised Movement, I immediately invited Erika Koutny, a designer I had worked with for over 5 years to work on all three publications with me. Erika passed away on 26 May 2015, which has left a huge vacuum in my life and in our work. I miss her dearly and have dedicated Movement Cape Town to her.
Movement Durban was designed by Erika Koutny. Movement Cape Town was designed by Michael Tymbios and Richard Quintal. Movement Johannesburg was designed by Richard Quintal. I learned a major lesson about the value of chemistry and co-creation. I think these were factors in design that I took for granted having worked with Erika. It is not just about finding a designer that is good, but rather a designer that believes and shares in your vision and that you have chemistry with. The designer needs to value the co-creation process of any project.
Tell us about the design concept, and the symbolism at play here?
ZA: The Movement flag design concept was created by Michael Tymbios. In cities, flags adorn buildings and lead to spaces, they dance above the static, immovable objects of architecture and infrastructure. They mark an event or a moment in time. Flags declare our diverse and shared identities and our desires to communicate, to be seen, to be understood, Flags are symbols of belonging, protest and above all – flags are symbols of movement. We proposed this flag as the symbol for our project on movement. As a symbol of belonging, questioning, context, protest and identity. As a symbol of the human spirit in the city.
Through re-investigating the historical and contemporary forces that continue to shape Joburg and Cape Town, what are some of the things you learnt?
Guy Trangoš: The impact of historical processes, practice, attitudes and movements on the contemporary city are palpable. While South African cities are more democratic and most have the prospect of economic access and quality education, socio-economic divisions run deep. We will no doubt see greater movements over the next decades as residents refuse to be marginalised, and these will hopefully push our cities to reconsider the routine ways in which they embed inequality.
A notable aspect of movement is that it can be restricted. The Johannesburg publication looks at the effect this has on the way many residents and visitors experience and take part in the city. Tell us more about your findings and observations here.
GT: The restriction of movement is certainly not only a Johannesburg phenomenon, but is perhaps most overtly experienced in the city. My sense is that Johannesburg realises explicitly the complex spatial realities that apartheid and bad post-apartheid planning have created. From gated suburbs to mega walled estates and hugely marginalised ‘township’ areas, walls restrict movement, attitudes impede movement and distance complicates movement. Our book shows, however, that despite barriers to movement and stark inequalities, people have always kept moving – despite its cost and the risks associated with it, the ability to move is often what defines one’s role in the city.
Movement Johannesburg examines the city as one of arrival – which it has been since the gold rush in 1886. Many years down the line, what lies behind a modern Joburg’s allure?
GT: It’s most certainly still a city of arrival. While it often resembles a massive, low-rise sprawling suburb, with a few moments of density, its role in the world is certainly that of a true urban centre. People come to Johannesburg for opportunity, to shop, to buy goods to trade back at home, to start businesses, to find jobs, for an education and to partake in its social and cultural offerings. It offers a condensed accumulation of robust minds and strong wills, people work hard and as a result the city is a rewarding place to move in. It is dynamic, charged and alive.
The Cape Town edition is all about contrasts, in a city where deep historical scars and divisions still exist in parallel with wealthy residents and international tourists. How does the city keep moving despite this?
ZA: The Cape Town edition of Movement is, in parts, young, hip and quirky. The city keeps moving because of creative movements and experimentation. Young people are curious and test boundaries. Local and international mix freely, collaborate and co-create making Cape Town diverse, creole and interesting.
How can all of these insights and learnings shape the way we understand, and live in, our cities going forward?
GT: Movement has been a powerful lens through which to view these cities, and we suggest that more people turn to movement as a means through which to read the city you move through. Movement makes you realise another’s humanity, their story, ambitions and goals – everyone is en route to somewhere for some reason. It exposes the complexity of movement in South African cities and the steep economic divides that dictate it. Movement scripts urban space, or writes the city and offers a means through which South African cities can become more accessible to all. Move beyond your walls, move in different directions and move for change.
The launch of Movement Cape Town takes place this evening at Gallery Momo. Find the details here.