Twin towns not identical

26 November 2007

Barcelona, Delft, Barcelona, Lavender Hill, Athlone: have we really thought about the ironies inherent in the way South Africa's suburbs and informal settlements have been christened? Michaelis photography lecturer Svea Josephy spent months photographing places that are identically named yet worlds apart for Twin Town, her exhibition now on at the Bell-Roberts gallery.

Focusing on the largely impoverished settlements surrounding Cape Town, Josephy traces a complex set of relationships - both differences and parallels - with places or events after which South African settlements are named.

Twin Town throws up unexpected trans-national connections within the everyday, and provides a fresh perspective from which to view the old issues of migrancy, forced removals, resettlement and sub-economic living conditions.

Josephy's explorations draw on euphemistic naming (Grassy Park, Lotus River, Ocean View and Lavender Hill), naming inspired by the colonial past (Delft, The Hague, Athlone and Stratford Green) as well as post-apartheid naming, so preoccupied with disaster (Tsunami, Kosovo, Rwanda, Harare, Vietnam and Beirut).

Josephy is alert to the fact that in this country, the naming and renaming of land is a profoundly political as well as emotional act - naming is, after all, inextricably bound up with claiming.

In some cases the one who names is the one who holds authority, power and mandate to name, in other cases naming is playful and subversive - even, one might suspect, tongue-in-cheek (Beverley Hills? Bermuda Triangle? Hyde Park? Lost City? Lapland? Europe? You'll find them here).

Included alongside the photographic pairings are texts, which elucidate the naming of the land. A publication which accompanies the exhibition provides more insight into the linguistic aspects of the project.

Twin Town runs until 22 December.

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