By definition, ‘suburb’ refers to an outlying district of an urban area. Connotations of the word vary wildly based on context, hinging largely upon the economic conditions of a particular area’s city centre. Where the city centre is also the centre of wealth, suburbs are associated with the low-income population of that area.
Les banlieues in the French, 90’s cult classic film La Haine are home to the protagonists, a group of young, working-class, second generation immigrants who journey through the urban space on a mission to avenge a friend who has been attacked by riot police. In comparison to the sleek but alienating portrayal of the Parisian commercial district, their suburb is rough but decidedly intimate. In the context of Johannesburg, for example, ‘suburb’ is far more likely to evoke images of expansive, green lawns and aggressively uniform, three metre-high walls. This, in opposition to the poverty and crime associated with Johannesburg’s city centre. Suburbia – suburban utopia, conceptualised as guarded islands or disguised prisons. But they are also vessels, empty and waiting, judged from the outside, but ultimately characterised by their content, the people who inhabit them.
Suburbia Contemporary, set in the outskirts of the city of Granada, was conceived as space operating outside of the centre, with all the opportunities for experimentation which that entails. Art spaces are often, on some level, utopic spaces. They are idealistic and may not always withstand the weight of the world as it is. They are largely defined by the people who have the capital, both financial and cultural, to inhabit them. As spaces that can exist within and battle against privilege and disadvantage, the role of the art gallery can be uncomfortable to evaluate. In La Haine, the protagonists are rejected from such a space.
Satellite, Suburbia Contemporary’s satellite project space, is new to Cape Town but is also one of many art spaces in the suburb of Woodstock, placed within the context of an ongoing, embattled, economic and political history. The height of an artistic space, like any other community, is characterised by a strong sense of self-awareness and reflection, and permeability and flexibility of form. Satellite functions as a link from one ‘margin’ to another, an assertion that worthy dialogue is not restricted to major centres. Still loosely defined, Satellite seeks to be a space for varied artistic visions. Playing within the freedom of the margins, in Cape Town and in Granada, Suburbia Contemporary and Satellite aim to amplify the voices of the artists present in both spaces.
Cape Town, 8.7.2019