The Mixed City

Cape Town has historically been a site of mixedness. Sometimes this mixing was voluntary; more usually it was contested. But, certainly, as peoples from around the world moved to – and through – the Cape over centuries, there was a blending of bodies, languages and cultures.

We can think of this process as ‘creolisation’, and of Cape Town of a true creole city. However, unlike, say, societies in Brazil, Capetonians have generally resisted exploring their hybridity. Urban spaces remain relatively regimented; the aesthetic is largely colonial. It is clear that not all the city’s cultures are equally recognised, commemorated, and appreciated in its visual landscape. Given that more than 80% of the Cape’s population is made up of people of colour, this is surprising. How has mixedness led only to fixedness?

See is an ambitious project. The aim is to make Cape Town’s comprehensive history more accessible and visible while better understanding its spatial policies and cultural representations which inform the current condition.

This will initially mean working closely with governments, archivists, historians, museums, archaeologists, social justice organisations, and activist groups. Reflecting this research will require further collaboration. By involving artists, architects, urbanists, designers, and digital storytellers, See will attempt to bring cultural equity to Cape Town’s built landscapes and public iconography.

The idea is to celebrate the complexities of mixed and diverse cultures, rather than maintain a fixed polarisation. Openness, rather than ostracisation. In a place like Cape Town, we should be comfortable navigating the complexities and the unknown – as far as identity and mixed ancestry is concerned. We should also embrace the opportunity to bring those at the edges of public life closer to the centre.

Introducing the See project

While focused on Cape Town, See will offer insights for global discussions on contested urban histories, equal representation in the memorialisation of history, and the construction of resilient postcolonial spaces and identities. The project will work with international cities and institutions, especially those that have challenges with contested urban histories and those that have successfully integrated representative symbols into their landscapes, literature and teachings.

The core intention, though, is to increase our knowledge of the contributions that various individuals and visionary groups have made to Cape Town’s culture. See is aimed at wresting the city’s creole spirit from apartheid’s enduring spatial legacies.

The project is focused on three concurrent explorations: history, memory and making place. The ambition is to move scholarly information out of archives and museums; relocate liminal discussions to the public square; and look at the established anew.

Outputs include an interactive project specific website, expert meetings, seminars, tours, studios and publications.

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