A pink plea to the city of Johannesburg


Our interns, Janine Adank and Julie-Ann Tyler, contribute to the debate around painting Jozi hot pink!

Some might say that the heritage buildings in Johannesburg’s CBD have been defaced by hot pink paint. They might also say that the implications of this will cost a great deal to repair. The buildings are after all of heritage. There is, however, another perspective worth mentioning. The painting of these buildings may be seen as an honest attempt to highlight the buildings that have stood neglected and untouched for years.

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Recently, a select few of the high rise heritage buildings in the CBD were ‘painted’ pink. We use the term ‘painted’ rather loosely as it seems that the paint was rather flung from the windows. The project ‘Beware of Colour’ consists of approximately thirty local artists from a variety of backgrounds, led by the instigator, New York-based artist Yazmany Arboleda.

At first the biggest question on people’s minds is why this group felt compelled to do this. Recently Arboleda has come forward and given an explanation in his blog “Why we painted Jozi pink.” The artist describes the buildings as “beautiful, hallowed objects left behind by time and a history long forgotten.” He explains that he wants to turn these long forgotten buildings into “living sculptures” as to remind the people of Johannesburg of their existence. His intention was that the paint would bleed from the broken windows and so the buildings appear to be crying out in angst. By highlighting these facades, Arboleda hopes to encourage dialogue amongst the inhabitants of Johannesburg in order to induce a greater change.

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This image above indicates some of the buildings that became targets for the Beware of Colour pink protest. They include some notable heritage buildings such as Shakespeare house, Clegg house and the Kempsey building. All of these buildings are heritage protected and have interestingly all been a point of discussion in recent times. It is important to note that Beware of Colour didn’t just choose any building – they chose buildings with significant heritage value. In so doing, they were able to not only point out the neglected state of these buildings, but also the abandoned nature of the buildings. If other buildings were chosen – those without heritage value – then it is perhaps arguable that their campaign would not have had the same impact.

Be that as it may, defacing heritage buildings does not really fix the problem at hand – namely, that the buildings are empty. Also, one could perhaps argue that there are other forms of protest – forms which may not necessarily involve defacing the building.

The Gauteng provincial government, who reportedly bought 18 building in the CBD and now propose to demolish 10 of these, including Clegg house, one of the buildings painted pink. As Clegg house was built in 1935, it is over 60 years old and therefore is protected by our heritage laws. Both the Shakespeare house and Kempsey building, which was believed to be the next target, have also been points of discussion lately especially by The Heritage Portal. The buildings are owned by Urban Ocean who apparently bought the buildings and had a grand vision to convert them into upmarket residential apartments but this never materialised, leaving the buildings to fall to ruin in the meantime.

According to the Star newspaper when they were arrested the group claimed they had “permission from the Gauteng Education Department to carry out a project about the fight of abuse of resources in the CBD as an artistic protest”. However this permission only extended to a list of buildings owned by the Gauteng Legislature. The permission given for this protest is questionable, and one has to ask if the person giving permission knew that the result would be hot pink paint being thrown over the buildings. Nevertheless the group decided to target privately owned buildings as well. It seems the aim was to draw attention to abandoned heritage buildings in the inner city regardless of ownership.

It also appears that the group selected buildings that have social housing potential. This has now been confirmed by Arboleda in his response:

“Chapter two, section 26 of the Constitution of South Africa states that “Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.” With so many evictions happening due to Mayor Park Tau’s “Operation Clean Sweep” and with thousands of people in the inner city with no place to live, how can we go on ignoring all of these buildings that could be renovated as potential homes?”

Should the private sector be allowed to own these building in the CBD and just let them go to ruin? Why does the City allow for the neglect of these heritage buildings? What is the value in calling a building heritage if we do not have any intention of looking after it? These buildings are part of the historical fabric of the city and should be upheld and given the importance that they rightfully deserve.

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In our opinion, the Beware of Colour initiative highlights important issues in the city. They are bringing life to buildings long forgotten and bringing the plight for housing in Johannesburg CBD to the forefront. The fact is, despite the ‘vandalism’ of these buildings, the people responsible have got us talking about them again. These pink scars will remain until something is done, but perhaps this will form a constant reminder of a necessary a call to action.

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