Saturday, 12 May 2012

You're going back

We went to the Neighbourgoods Market today in down-town Johannesburg. On the website it states that "the market reflects our commitment to urban regeneration and the goal to revive and reinvent the Public Market as a civic institution. Market-goers can expect to find an assortment of goods from local artisan producers, purveyors, gourmet merchants, specialty cooks, regional farmers + estates, as well as a selection of local designers". We had previously been to the market in Cape Town, which was wonderful, so I had some high expectations for the Joburg version.

And it is also very cool. The emphasis here is on cool. All the hipsters descend on a very select corner of the inner city, clad in their coolest attire (skinny jeans, plaid shirt, Ray Bans for the gents, and some kind of This-is-meant-to-look-like-I-just-threw-it-on for the ladies), sipping smoothies or Moscow Mules and eating sandwiches that cost R60. I mean, it is a nice atmosphere and it is fascinating to watch everyone, but man, it is a pretentious get-together. No one would want to live in the area, because the inner city is not exactly the safest place, but come Saturday, this is how the mostly white upper-middle class cures its (political and real) hangover.

Look, the market is great. Everything looks supertasty and all the products are high in quality, but I don't know how much it contributes to "urban regeneration". The people from the surrounding area can by no means afford to shop there. I mean, who can pay R50 (€5) for a miniature slab of Honest Chocolate? This market is more about personal indulgence for the rich than it is for one to do one's weekly grocery shopping at. Go for the atmosphere and to observe how the slickest of slick are glued to their sunglasses, but stop at the Pick 'n Pay for your milk and bread.

After the market, we headed to the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which is just around the corner, but seems to be situated in a completely different world. We were driving through almost empty streets when suddenly there were people EVERYWHERE and we were in the bus lane. It was funny, scary and interesting all at the same time. Whereas at the market it is 95 % white and with financial resources, we were suddenly stuck in streets where it is 99% black and with low incomes. It was a strange contrast.

The gallery is next to the Joubert Park, where people and trash overpower the lawns. Beyond the fence, however, there was almost no one in the museum. It hosts the largest art collection in Southern Africa, larger even than South African National Art gallery in Cape Town, but the throngs of people outside did not seem interested at the visual information at their disposal. and entrance is free, so there is no real excuse not to go and have a look. I wonder if there could not be some way to integrate the park's visitors and the wonderful works present in the museum, preferably in a way that could be income-generating for the area.

I'm home now, but today was just fascinating: within minutes, we had gone from an elitist market to streets overflowing with people to an empty gallery. Such a weird and wonderful place, Johannesburg.

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