Invisible Borders: Cultural Time Zones in Johannesburg and New Delhi

In June 2017, JIAS and the Wits City Institute sponsored an art and photo exhibition entitled ‘Invisible Borders: Cultural Time Zones in Johannesburg and New Delhi’ which hung at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA) in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

The exhibition was organised by Dr Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, a 2017 JIAS Writing Fellow. It was linked to a one-day seminar entitled ‘What does spatial transformation mean?: Possibilities for a more equitable, liveable Johannesburg’, held at JIAS on Friday 2 June 2017.

The exhibition explored specific areas in both cities in terms of the notion of Cultural Time Zones (CTZs), a theory of microspaces conceptualised by Myambo, a former Fulbright-Nehru Scholar at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi, and a Research Associate at CISA.

The artists and photographers included Nocebo Bucibo, Laura Burocco, Malini Kochupillai, Leon Krige, Mwezi Macingwane, Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, Juan Orrantia and Ruzza Wazzi.

Some images

Protest against the proposed banning of virginity testing by the Minister of Education, Mai Mai Hostel, Jeppestown, Johannesburg, 2015. Nocebo Bucibo

Instagrammable – Selling the image, Maboneng/Jeppestown, Johannesburg, 2017. Melissa Tandiwe Myambo

Artwork from Khirkee’s street art festival, Khirkee Village, New Delhi, 2011-12. Malini Kochupillai

Select City Walk mall, built on farmland once tilled by the people of Khirkee Extension, New Delhi, 2017. Malini Kochupillai

Children play in the newly minted Jamun Wala Park, which has been secured with barbed wire fencing along the edges it shares with the Khirkee Extension community. The Park is a CSR initiative of Select City Walk mall, a common practice of public–private partnership in which public land is handed over to private interests for ‘development and maintenance’, who then exercise control over who can access it, and when.

Mrs. Flora Manamela, New Doornfontein, Johannesburg, May 2017. Laura Burocco

Still Life with graffiti and vegetables, Khirkee Village, New Delhi, 2016. Malini Kochupillai

Shisa Nyama, Alex Hostel, Johannesburg, 2016. Nocebo Bucibo

David’s Barber Shop in Khirkee Extension, New Delhi, 2016. Malini Kochupillai

Mr Ramesh Lala’s memories, Jeppestown, Johannesburg, May, 2016. Laura Burocco

Busy on the streets of the neighborhood, Khirkee Village, New Delhi, 2016. Malini Kochupillai

Bab’ Mseleku, Formalise Us, Germiston, Johannesburg, May 2017. Mwezi Macingwane

Comments at the opening by Melissa Myambo

‘Nobody lives in a whole country or a whole city. When I came to this most self-evident observation, I began to develop a theory of microspaces which I call Cultural Time Zones.

‘I wanted to understand why working-class migrants from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique, Malawi, the DRC, and other African countries face deadly xenophobia in some areas in South Africa.

‘But middle-class migrants from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique, Malawi, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and France do not …

‘An urbanized, westernized, middle-class migrant does not have to travel many cultural kilometres when she moves between malls …

‘What is the cultural distance between the Cultural Time Zone of Sandton City Mall in Jo’burg and Selecty Citywalk Mall in South Delhi?

‘But if she wants to go to the Cultural Time Zone of the local, outdoor market, she will have to travel a much longer cultural distance.

‘The inverse is also true.

‘A villager from Limpopo or Bihar who leaves the Cultural Time Zone of the rural village may feel that he has entered another country when he walks into an air-conditioned, marble-floored mall for the first time.

‘If he can get in.

‘What happens if he is barefoot? Or doesn’t have the right shoes?

‘To successfully navigate a Cultural Time Zone, you need the requisite cultural capital (e.g. shoes, language, looks).

‘Are you more comfortable in Jeppestown or Maboneng? In Khirkee Village or Select Citywalk Mall?

‘Once you figure that out, you will know what kind of cultural capital you have.

‘When you feel uncomfortable, you will know that you have crossed a cultural border, even if it is almost invisible.

‘This exhibition examines two adjacent areas in two cities, one ‘gentrified’ and one ‘ungentrified’ – Maboneng and Jeppestown in Jo’burg’s CBD; and Select Citywalk Mall and Khirkee Village in South Delhi. It also explores other areas in both cities.

‘I thank everyone who has made this exhibition possible, especially the artists and photographers Nocebo Bucibo, Laura Burocco, Malini Kochupillai, Leon Krige, Mwezi Macingwane, Juan Orrantia and Ruzza Wazzi. Neil Nieuwoudt hung all the works with great expertise and infinite patience.

‘Finally, this exhibition would never have happened without the kind generosity of the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), Wits City Institute (WCI) and the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS).’

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