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Cape Flats Details
Life and Culture in the Townships of Cape Town
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A rich collection of vivid photographs, capturing images of the homes, cultures, people, and streets of the communities of the Cape Flats. Working during the late 1980s, Ledochowski highlights the vibrant cultures of the area.
"Cape Flats" refers to the vast stretch of exposed sandy wetlands that lie north of Table Mountain and which now forms a large part of the metropolitan region of Cape Town. Racked by the harsh south-easter and frequently flooded in winter, the Cape Flats is highly unsuitable for residential purposes. But today it has become home to close on a million people. It was here that the apartheid government forcefully removed and restricted the ‘non white’ population of Cape Town under the Group Areas Act. The creation of the 'Townships', defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "planned urban settlements of Black Africans or Coloreds", represented apartheid's attempt to plan, control, and regulate the lives of the Black majority.
Far from being simply art-for-art's sake, much of this creativity is essentially functional and inextricably linked to the social fabric of the townships. For example, a decorative mural is on a wall that holds up a house; an artistic shebeen sign points people to a place of social activity; a display of religious paraphernalia provides the setting for a "home church". This documentary project was in no way an attempt at appropriating cultural artifacts from the townships. The creativity explored here does not offer any catalogue of township art available in the city's art galleries or craft markets, nor should it be read as an itinerary for an authentic township tour. It is rather an attempt to respectfully reveal aspects of our township culture that have hitherto remained largely hidden as peoples' protected spaces.
The art and culture of the Colored townships express the dispossession of an urban population — both Christian and Muslim communities that were systematically broken up and forcibly moved from Cape Town and its suburbs to the dumping grounds of the CapeFlats. Removed from the relative comfort and security of the city to hostile dormitory townships faced with overcrowding, unemployment, crime, and poverty, these communities were stripped of their heritage and experienced enormous alienation. In this hostile township environment, street gang culture spread like wildfire. The American gangster lifestyle promoted by popular media, together with local gang subcultures and prison gang codes of ethics, have provided sources of identity for a lost generation of youth. The creativity found in the Colored townships reflects all of these experiences and dynamics, while at the same time drawing heavily on traditional cultural and religious identities.
"A collection of remarkable work brought to us by a man of extraordinary spirit, courage, fragility, tenacity, complexity, and eye. The photography is pervaded by a sense of fine discernment and passionate concern for the subject. There are no cheap shots here and no facile concessions to popular, political or artistic correctness."
"With a record of engagement in this world going back over two decades, Ledochowski gives dignity to artistic practices of the people of the Cape Flats through sensitive photographs that demonstrate the rich culture and varied artistic responses of residents to the world and life around them."
"Chris Ledochowski has attempted … to give integrity to this tradition [of hand-tinted portraits]. Instead of placing dark colors on the black and white photos, he has used transparent paints so that the details in the prints may be highlighted."
- Christelle Terreblanche,Vrye Weekblad
"A definitive marker of the success of Ledochowski's book is the extent to which the selection and arrangement of images supersedes the lived experience of deep physical and emotional divisions between Black and Colored townships on the Cape Flats. It is an inspiration to an experience of the future."
Chris Ledochowski was born into a Polish immigrant family in Pretoria in 1956. He attended boarding school in Swaziland and, after his compulsory military service, studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, specializing in photography. For over two decades he has tirelessly documented life and achievement in the townships of the Cape. Apart from ongoing rural projects in Venda and Pondoland, he continues to be invited to take part in national and international exhibitions. Chris Ledochowski works as a freelance photographer in Cape Town.
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