Public art and place-making
in Remaking the urban
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This chapter considers the possibilities for public art – whether monumental or ephemeral – to act as a point of access to urban collective memory, and what the politics are of these kinds of public representations and contestations. The politics of public art, public space and the visual languages used to reflect the city’s collective history also play out in relation to colonial statuary, buildings and street names. The city’s histories of dispossession, forced removal and segregation remain etched into its streets and public spaces, as is the case in many South African cities and indeed many colonial cities elsewhere in the world. In 2010, a public green space on a hill in the city centre, the Donkin Memorial, was refurbished by the Mandela Bay Development Agency. Part of this refurbishment was a public art project in which artworks were placed along a winding pathway to the top of the hill, intended to symbolise Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. This triumphant, branding-friendly work is contrasted with the less-visible, often ephemeral methods by which the Black Consciousness activist Steve Biko, who was interrogated by Port Elizabeth security police in the city before his death, is remembered. These figures and biographies point towards the many layers of memory which co-exist in urban public spaces, and the politics of accessing this archive of memory embedded in city streets and squares via the aesthetic realm.

Remaking the urban

Heritage and transformation in Nelson Mandela Bay

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