Shared Histories: A Canada-South Africa cross-pollination

Welcome to an exhibition of university student artwork resulting from a unique, collaborative, community-engaged, arts-based outdoor education program entitled, Shared Histories, Imagined Futures and the Culture of Possibility.

Art That Connects Us To Place

This program, offered as a combined Community Projects/Visual Arts Seminar course by the Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD) in the spring 2017 semester in collaboration with a Social Action course for visual art students at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, served as a catalyst for relationship-building and critical dialogues between indigenous and newcomer communities simultaneously at the local and global scale.

R.A.V.E.N. was a key partner on this pilot program which engaged Emily Carr students undertaking a collaborative BFA program based at North Island College in Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. ECUAD students collaborated with members of the local K’omoks First Nation and Wachiay Friendship Centre as well as 4th year visual art students based at UJ to produce an exhibition that took place simultaneously in South Africa’s Apartheid Museum and Canada’s Courtenay and District Museum (April 13-21, 2017). This online exhibition is intended to act as part exhibition catalogue and part tool for continued interaction between the exhibition spaces, student artists and audiences.

Student groups in both Canada and South Africa followed a parallel process that included dialogue and creative exchange with each other (both asynchronously online and through real-time video conferencing), field trips to intercultural green spaces, interviews and/or collaborations with diverse community members, and explorations in concepts of Site/Non-Site, Radical Cartography and Acoustic Ecology.

Students were asked to make site-specific work that responded to a specific site of social and ecological significance to their community. In the Comox vallley, ECUAD students chose sites along the K’omoks Estuary – an important ecosystem home to certain species that can only exist where the Puntledge River meets the Pacific Ocean, a site of diverse recreational uses by all walks of life, and the port where European settlers once arrived. In response, UJ students chose to focus on aspects of the Jukskei River — one of the largest rivers in Johannesburg. This river was man-made at the time of the gold rush, initially used for drinking water and mining – the gold industry that contributed to the eventual colonization of South Africa. Today, the river is highly toxic, subject to flash flooding and fatalities, and weaves its ways through a wide range of demographics (race, class, etc). The result of this process, which you find here, are critical artworks than involve a range of mediums and take various forms, documented digitally for online and international exhibition.

Why connect Canada and South Africa in dialogue and creative collaboration? What do we “share” in our histories? Both societies have a history of spatial and racial segregation, including education systems (residential schools in Canada and the Bantu education system in S. Africa) which fundamentally stripped indigenous peoples of their cultures, languages and dignity, as well as both societies having adopted Truth and Reconciliation processes as part of their strategies towards conflict transformation and social cohesion. The connections between peoples, place, land, environment and resources have been and continue to be at the heart of these challenges and opportunities. What new realms of social and artistic innovation can be accessed when people with different perspectives and world-views partner to problem-solve together?

This project is an exploration of how, by sharing dialogue, storytelling and creative collaboration in an educational context, we can build a new culture of possibility in the “space” that is not defined by geographical borders, language or cultural differences, or limitations of the past. Work produced in this exhibit explores connections between peoples, place, land, environment and resources with the aim of contributing to critical dialogue necessary for a just and sustainable future for all.

The Culture of Possibility

Artist(s): Dimakatso Mathopa & Mary-lee Makunye
Duration: 1:37 min

Artist Statement: The video focuses on the socio-economic issues surrounding Jukskei river in Alexandra, Johannesburg. The concept is based on the paradox between the reconstruction and deconstruction of homes by the river banks.

Artist(s): Emilia Eva Nadj
Duration: 1:27 min

Artist Statement: My project came in four stages and it was the PhotoVoice [participatory interview process] which really influenced this final piece. Through community engagement, and social collaboration, I ended up working with a man involved in the informal waste economy in Johannesburg, and as a result he documented the two alternative routes he takes to collect waste. The one route, starts at Bertrams [where the Jukskei first surfaces in Joburg] and the other is directed to the more industrial sectors like Strajdom Park.

Through the informal interview process, he mentioned how his grandmother had a history of recycling, where she would crochet objects out of plastic bags. In speaking with my peers, I discovered that this medium of crochet work is a history everyone shares regardless of their cultural and ethnic background. This, in turn, leads to me investigate the ways in which waste and recycling connect and as a result lead me to look at the pathogens and bacteria found in the Jukskei. As a result, I decided to crochet [a representation of] these organisms found in the water.

Through using x-ray type video imaging in my video graphic work, I have referenced a scientific-like approach of studying these pathogens and bacterias. This, in turn, resulted in a push and pull between the synthetic and natural relationships in the Jukskei ecosystems and as a result created a tension, in the attraction and repulsion between the ecological and synthetic symbiosis of the Jukskei river itself. Furthermore, by using meditative music, I have created a space for reflection, to urge the viewer to reflect on their impact and contribution to the ecological degradation of the Jukskei. In combination with the overlayed human interruption of the noise and static, I have further referenced this tension of the environment and our impact on it.

Artist(s): Lilly Oosthuizen & Neo Diseko
Duration: 1:39 min

Artist Statement: The river here is a “go-between” for our geographical divisions. This stark division of people and places in Johannesburg is formed from our segregated history and an ever-growing wage gap. As one suburb develops, another is dilapidated. I find it curious that the river connects us when we simply refuse to cross the bridges that separate us. Inexplicably, this river has become one of the few remaining things that we share as people and yet we all neglect it.

Our collaboration focuses on the distribution of wealth in different communities in South Africa. Neo documented two communities that are joined by the Jukskei River. These two communities are highly dissimilar from each other because they occupy different social classes. The first area is the community of Alexandra, which predominantly houses the lower class. Contrastingly, the second area is the middle to upper class area of Morning Hill.

The Jukskei River has no boundaries. It invades Johannesburg and traverses different communities. As a result, Neo’s project focuses on the dynamics of erecting walls and fences as physical boundaries to keep things and people away.

This photographic essay forms the environment of the animated narrative. It distinguishes the two communities from one another and in our work we will play around with the idea of overcoming the boundaries set by social class as young South Africans.

The animation uses the river itself as a boundary. It depicts two silhouettes attempting to cross the river and cross paths with each other in the process. This works speaks about “crossing the bridge” of these social divisions. As young South Africans, we feel that it is important to assimilate ourselves with each other and with people from different social backgrounds from ours. The question as to whether or not these boundaries can be overcome is complex.

Artist(s): Matthew Ellwood
Duration: 4:00 min

Artist Statement: Sound art is an interesting art form as it contains no visual context or content. It is not musical or just ambient environmental noise. It lives between. It is its own entity. I created The Jukskei River as sound art to represent my trip and exposure to the Jukskei and its socio-political issues. I used self-recorded sound, from Alexandra, to generate this artwork which I changed and worked through, cleaned up and aligned. The sound of water and the tales of our guide, Collen, who took us on a drive around Alexandra. He pointed out the issues of the cityscape which the Jukskei river runs through. The sound of water running getting louder and louder becomes unsettling and evokes the feelings that I have experienced in the township space and raising the issues of floods, rain and damage the river does to the township. It is harrowing. I hope that you interact with the sound, and the text and that it opens your mental eyes to The Jukskei River.

Artist(s): Sanelisiwe Nkonyane
Duration: 0:55 min

Artist Statement: This is a video work compiled from a collection of images collected through the journey along the Jukskei path. The images include objects gathered and washed onto the banks of the river when it flooded, parks situated along the river, which are a place for children to play and yet they are a major hazard space when the river floods. I have chosen these images as well as traffic in motion and static motions to communicate to the viewer the challenges of over- population and human movement through migration for a better life. It became a reflection of my own life as I travel from my Swaziland to South Africa for education.

In some places [along the Jukskei] you’d find that they’d all be gathered together, hooked on a branch or on the bank of the river. And so I also looked at people traveling from different places within South Africa and out of South Africa and finding themselves in Alex as a place to settle while they look for a better future for themselves. So the whole video communicates the idea of traveling and settling and moving on and settling, ’cause that’s what the kind of rubbish does. When it floods, some of it gets washed down further and it settles somewhere else.

Artist(s): Rourke Lyte-Mason
Duration: 1:01 min

Artist Statement: This work consists of a painting as well as a video. The Shared History project allowed me to travel along the Jukskei river through Johannesburg.Through this journey I experienced many different things such as graffiti, sport, how people live and survive as well as how negatively this river is seen throughout Johannesburg. After doing research on the Jukskei and participating on these field trips with my classmates, I started finding links between the word Jukskei and sport.

The word Jukskei is a name for a sport. We had to find a certain site along the Jukskei that linked to our final artwork. I read that the Jukskei runs underneath Ellis Park Stadium. This sparked my interest to use Ellis Park stadium for my site. The 1995 Rugby World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand was held at this stadium. Sport allowed the country to join together after Apartheid.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair” – Nelson Mandela.

These experiences and Mandela’s quote on sport became my motivation for my work. Growing up, sport allowed me to become the person I am today and my aim is to create a positive image of the Jukskei river by using it as a metaphor for how the river brings the city of Johannesburg together, much like how sport brought the country together in the 1995 Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park Stadium.

The word Jukskei is done in a Graffiti font as graffiti was seen everywhere around Ellis Park and became an inspiration for the final artwork. I made the graffiti look like water to try capture how the Jukskei is water. I painted Mandela handing over the rugby world cup trophy to Franchois Pienaar as on this day South Africa won the rugby world cup and the country was joined through sport. I took progress photos as I painted the artwork which I then turned into a video piece. The aim is to try to take you on a journey through sport and the Jukskei. The sound consists of crowds cheering and joining together for the world to hear. It’s a build-up of the crowd coming together through sport.

Artist(s): Vanessa Tembane & Specs Ndimande
Duration: 1:09 min

Artist Statement: Zihlanziwe Izingane (The Children Have Been Washed Away) is a piece about two children, Dikeledi Mtshatshela and Evelate Chauke, who drowned in the Jukskei river. They are represented by two bottle caps floating down a stream to meet the other bottle caps that have been washed away.

Artist(s): Jenna Walker
Duration: 3:40 min

Artist Statement: Inspired from the natural beauty of the K’omoks estuary in the Comox Valley, mainly the Goose Spit provincial park. This shared land speaks to so many and provides a place for creating a new sense of what “space” is and the possibilities for the future. For thousands of years ancient sands, natural erosion and strong currents created the Goose Spit. After colonization, asphalt and large boulders were placed on the sands in an attempt to freeze the land. The sculpture, Encapsulated Stairs, touches on our relationship to this land and speaks of our attempts to control nature, at the same time, showing our inherit connection and love of this space, this shared land.

Artist(s): Brigitte Cattell & Tesla Mayenburg
Duration: 4:21 min

Artist Statement: Beau Taplin said, “human beings are made of water. We were not designed to hold ourselves together but rather run free, like oceans, like rivers.” This statement applies to all humans and cultures, and this connection to water is the driving force behind our video. The connection between people and place is important. To feel the place, be one with it and have that relationship permeate outwards and affect those around us is what drives our passion. We want people to feel the way we do in regards to the beautiful Comox Valley that is our backyard. No matter where we come from or what our story is, everyone brings their own narrative to the land and creates a new one with it. The valley can act as a common place for all cultures so that we can all, in our own way, gravitate to the pulsing tides, feel the heartbeat of the ocean, and become completely synchronized. The importance of mapping out the area from a first person perspective, using a GoPro, is important to us. From the immersive perspective on the back of an animal, to the exhilarating speed on the front of a bicycle, Our Shared Backyard incorporates not only our perspective, but others’ as well, to show the multi-dimensional relationships that we all have with nature. Through interactions with the land and people, our soundscape is composed of music and various interviews with people we met along our mapping of the space. This video allows the connecting bodies of water and land to stand as a metaphor for connecting people and cultures that all share and live in the same place.

Artist(s): TaraLee Houston
Duration: 10:03 min

Artist Statement: This is a community art project anyone from anywhere can join. The idea started with a local focus #circlethekomoksestuary by connecting people, place, land, and all living things in the K’omok’s Estuary. The idea became a global one considering we are all global citizens of this planet. Everyone is invited to join by posting a picture of a place they are connected to and want to protect on Instagram or Facebook using #circlethekomoksestuary. Let’s connect, together we can encircle the planet and bring focus to our environment we want to protect.

This project started as a personal mission and I wanted to share it with others as part of my art practice. I recorded my circle around the estuary through walking, photos, video, and art making with natural materials around the K’omok’s Estuary as a way of symbolizing my pledge to protect this place and the planet. This audio compilation is a story of my journey circling the estuary accompanied by images from my experience of this place. For more information on this project please visit: TaraLee Houston Art With Heart page on Facebook; tlhoustonartwithheart on Instagram;


Courtenay & District Museum, 207 4th St, Courtenay, BC, April 13-21, 2017
Exhibit Opening April 13th, 7-9pm

Apartheid Museum, Northern Parkway and Gold Reef Road, Johannesburg, South Africa, April 13-21, 2017
Exhibit Opening April 13th, 3-5pm


This program was co-designed and implemented by several faculty members from the participating institutions: Sarah Van Borek (ECUAD), Prav Pillay (ECUAD), Farieda Nazier (UJ), Kim Berman (UJ) and Minnette Vari (UJ).

This program would not have been possible without the generous contributions of various contributors: Susan Smitten (R.A.V.E.N.), Chief Nicole Rempel (K’omoks First Nation), Karver Everson (K’omoks First Nation), Rob Crowston of Wachiay Aboriginal Multi Media (WAMM) Hannelie Coetzee (South African artist), Leila Anderson (South African artist), Collen Khaorisa Baloyi (Constitution Hill), Wayde Davy (Apartheid Museum), Gillian Miller (Courtenay & District Museum), Sandra Semchuk (ECUAD), Cissie Fu (ECUAD), Linda Perron (North Island College), Gordon Ross (NIC), and Maggie Ziegler (NIC).


Sarah Van Borek, Faculty of Culture and Community
Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Prav Pillay, Faculty of Culture and Community
Emily Carr University of Art + Design

Take Action

Leave a Comment