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Temporarily without a title

by Cǎlin Dan • 21 September 2012


There are several threads followed every time I have the time to explore a city: architectural landmarks are the entry point, text layers are following, then come the vernacular interventions, and finally come the people.

People are the difficult share, because of the exploitation aspect, that does not need much explaining here. Therefore, it is a blessing when the narcissistic obsession people have with landmark photography intervenes. Since everyone is having a ball of self-representation, my insertion is not so intruding anymore.

Nelson Mandela’s representation in front of the Michelangelo towers mall at Sandton is a blessing if one is interested in a symbolic representation of the South African complexity. Without traveling, and with no risk involved, you just look at the defilée of people who let themselves be photographed (mostly) between the legs of the father figure of post-apartheid.

That will give and endearing cross-section through the multi-ethnicity of the country, although one-dimensioned in terms of economics. But precisely this type of economic censorship implied by the location is relevant. If one looks carefully at the huge statue, the shabby clothes and worn out shoes of Mandela (otherwise known in his time as a sharp dresser) hint to the fact that those are his prison clothes. So, what does it give? Mandela walks toward us in prison garb, with a generous smile on his face. He is obviously free(d) and welcomes us into this freshly achieved state of freedom. Where does he come from? From the Michelangelo mall, obviously. Would the mall behind be the prison he is just released from? Was he freed from the shopping culture on which the Sandton urban effort is based? More likely, he actually invites us inside. But then, why the jail uniform? Did he rush directly from Robben Island to Sandton, to buy some new clothes and shoes, for his future appointments? Or is this a hint that the entire struggle, all the historical battles that went on for decades were aiming – directly – at providing the people with their share of mall experience?

All those are questions which shouldn’t bother the shoppers and visitors who embrace the legs of Madiba, transformed temporarily into the shopping god of our times. They have a right to consumerism, like anyone else, and they exercise this right to their best knowledge.

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