Window on business of Africa’s cities
The Museum of the Revolution is concerned with the capitalist nature of African cities rudely awakening from socialist policies
The window of the Stevenson was open to the street. Usually the gallery is an isolated time and space capsule. Inside, troubles and contexts can be forgotten in the sterile cube that could be anywhere in the world.
The tunnel-like entrance is on Main Road in Woodstock in Cape Town. At the end of the tunnel is an unmanned locked glass door that only an entitled finger can open.
Although only a wall separates the entrance from one of the busiest roads in the city, it feels far away from the taxi gaatjie shouting out a destination. It’s way faster and cheaper escapism than any last-minute flight on offer.
A life-size wallpaper relocates visitors to the gallery into a street where three men on the move in different directions are indifferent to the presence of people watching them. There are scenes from more streets where other people on the move are captured in choreography that might be mistaken for disorder by a western eye.
Through framed glass windows are a host of busy people — women in colourful dresses, men in sexy suits, men in dresses. They are all walking tall, some running tall, some sitting tall. It is sunny.
A man stares back, his gaze is haughty. An eclectic mix of colonial, modern and under-construction buildings hug the stream of pedestrians crossing the roads. Branded billboards shout from every corner. Traders sit on pavements behind piles of produce in different colours. There are mosques, churches and palm trees.
This expedition is concerned with the capitalist nature of African cities rudely awakening from socialist policies. These people are on the streets of Johannesburg, Durban, Maputo, Beira, Harare, Nairobi, Kigali, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Luanda, Libreville, Accra, Dakar and Dar es Salaam. Africa is a city.
I arrive at the Museum of the Revolution in Maputo, Mozambique. All the people there are going in the same direction, or looking in the same direction. The museum is adorned with "a panoramic painting produced by North Korean artists depicting the liberation of the capital from Portuguese colonial rule". There are cracks on the walls.
At the end of the display, a big window shows hints of blue sky and tops of familiar buildings. I have returned to Cape Town.
Back on the street, there is little that is similar to the colourful hustle and bustle that threads the scenes inside the Stevenson. Here laundry can’t dry in public view, curtains are limited to white only, hawkers are not welcome while armed response is, and beautiful tongues are hidden behind fake accents.
The people walking on Main Road in Woodstock could perhaps walk taller if they pop into the gallery and are inspired to see the directions they could head, or at least realise that their fingers entitle them to enter.
Museum of the Revolution by Guy Tillim is at Stevenson Gallery until November 25.