Jana+Koos took their ‘City Of Gold Diggers – JHB Hates You’ exhibition to New York last week and by all accounts it was a huge success and the response from the New York audience was incredible, we caught up with them and asked them a few questions about the exhibition, their work and the relevance of South African creativity in New York.
What were some of your objectives with your first show in NYC?
The objective wasn’t to have a show in NY – that was an opportunity that arose and that we couldn’t turn down, but with that we did think that we could actually bring some of our personality, approach and humour to NY. We’re continually trying to do art exploration and side projects as part of the Jana and Koos brand where we try to push ourselves creatively to help inform and inspire the commercial work we do.
Did your take on Joburg gain interest, and what were some of the main elements of the show that drew attention/became talking points?
It gained a lot more interest than we expected. Especially considering it’s exactly that, OUR take and interpretation and style. We had no expectations of how it would be taken here but from the outset wanted to do something that wasn’t a stereotypical representation of Johannesburg and something that we hoped would be unexpected in NY. We’ve had some great feedback from a very diverse crowd, that the work and execution was something they’d never seen in NY and agreed that the city is hungry for this kind of fresh approach (which really came as a pleasant surprise, considering). Many people didn’t even know that JHB stood for Johannesburg or that the exhibition had anything to do with South Africa, but that is fine because it was never intended to be a patriotic showing, it is our take on the spirit of the place where we live and work and draw inspiration from. We were joking that some people came just to speak Afrikaans, not that we minded as the gallery was packed and most of those guys left with a JHB HATES U shirt, now being instagrammed from the streets of Brooklyn and the lower east side. The “Golden Shower’ installation of raining gold teeth filling one of the rooms of the gallery also drew a lot of attention and a whole lot of selfies.
(The short answer : 2 giant beaded dildos (‘Holnaai 1 and Holnaai 2), hanging close to the window obviously were a big talking point).
Do you feel South Africans have a unique perspective to offer New York, a place so seemingly over saturated with opinions, views and experiences?
We definitely do – and we see that from some of the South Africans living here like Richard Hart and Xander Ferreira, who are making huge successes and impact from doing exactly that, but also in the global success of various musicians, artists, designers etc living and working from SA. Unlike many of the bigger and more established cities, South Africa and for us, Johannesburg particularly, is in a great space where its figuring itself out and it makes for great creative vacancies to do and try new, experimental and often even ugly things because it doesn’t yet have the pressure to be anything or look like something yet.
How relatable was your show for those who attended it but knew little about Joburg?
We enjoyed watching people walk around and say to each other ‘that is really f-cking weird, and ‘I don’t get it but I like it’ – and here and there where we explained where certain ideas came from (not that our intention was for people to understand or for there to be anything to read into any of the prints), but we were surprised at how much whether they related or not, they were very intrigued and amused. Considering the subject matter and some of the undertones, we’re actually surprised at how many sales there were, which was never really our intention to begin with. Again, the JHB hates you t-shirts flew off the shelves – and people totally love and get the humour with which they are intended – and they were bought by South Africans who live here, by German’s visiting NYC from Berlin, by a new yorker who wore it on stage at the Governer’s Ball the next day (etc). And even the prints that sold, sold regardless of the need to understand the context. Afrikaanse Goue Stemme / (Afrikaans Golden voices) a print featuring a Karika Keesenkamp CD case with lines of gold glitter and a gold FNB credit card was a satiric take on our heritage and culture that we’ve inherited but now subvert, and this was bought by a NY photographer who loved the story and the joke behind the execution.