Burning Museum

Artist: Burning Museum
Location: District Six and Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa
Year of completion: 2013
Researcher: Vaughn Sadie

District Six was a historical mixed race neighbourhood on the eastern edge of the City of Cape Town’s, Central Business District. On 11 February 1966, the area was declared a White Group Area, under the Groups Area act of 1950. Over 66 000 people where displaced and resettled to new group areas situated in the Cape Flats, between 1966 and the 1980’s. What this process made visible was the impact of the systematic erasure of visible heritage and culture through the demolishing of homes, schools, churches and cinemas, on the spatial practices that define the community’s relationship to place.

During the 1980’s the area was subject to development with the building of a whites only university on a portion of the site, this already evoked concerns that memory of the site would be lost. In 2005 the area was redeveloped for returning ex-residents under the land restitution process, this saw several homes being occupied by returning families. The family had to make sense of an eroding edge condition, occupied by students and business that had no connection to the area. This was a clear sign that the first wave of gentrification was taking hold. Currently with the hype around the city hosting The World Design Capital, District Six has fallen victim to speculative projects that push design as a tool for social, cultural and economic development in the hope of transforming the city. In this instance, the erasure of a significant history for capitalistic design imperatives.

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In response, Burning Museum have been inserting wheatpasties into the area - images from the Van Kalker Archive. The archive consists of 300,000 negatives that contain the family portraits that were recorded in the classic portrait studio in Woodstock Main Road, established in 1937 upon the arrival of Gerhardt van Kalker, a Dutch immigrant to the Western Cape. The collective focused on images from the 1950’s to1970’s, in the hope that returning residents and visitors who have a history with the area might recognize somebody or that passers-by would be reminded of their own friends and family, who were victims of this process and system.

Burning Museums broader projects are relevant because within the space of a year they have started to draw attention to Cape Town’s attempt to erode the historical importance of a relevant and significant history. The legacy of District Six is leveraged for tourism but barely considered in the planning for the redevelopment of the outskirts of the City Bowl. In turning this edge into a public gallery the project places family and political history at the forefront of the conversation of shifting neighbourhood and that place-making is also about the act of remembering and retelling of complex and difficult histories in public space. The intervention also challenges the strategy of the appropriation of street art by developers to beautify or gentrify neighbourhoods (which is pervasive in the area), often plastering walls with feel good images, rather than working with contextually or social relevant images that open up conversation and debate about how relationship to places is mediated through complex social and political histories.

The project started in 2013, with consider interventions with wheatspaste images from the Van Kalker Archive in the areas of District Six, Woodstock and Salt River. The project is largely self funded and with unoffical support from the District Six Musuem, with acces to the Van Kalker Archive archive.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency