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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Postapartheid publics and the politics of ornament: nationalism, identity, and the rhetoric of community in the decorative program of the new Constitutional Court, Johannesburg
Author:Freschi, FedericoISNI
Year:2007
Periodical:Africa Today
Volume:54
Issue:2
Pages:27-49
Language:English
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:architecture
buildings
constitutional courts
decorative arts
Link:http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/africa_today/v054/54.2freschi.pdf
Abstract:Focusing on the new Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, South Africa, this article considers the role that the architecture of public buildings, and more particularly the decorative programmes in these public buildings, are playing in constructing the national imaginary of 'unity in diversity' in contemporary South Africa. It proceeds from the understanding that architectural ornament, far from being merely an elaboration of the appearance of the building for the sake of visual pleasure, is in fact central to the way in which a building can carry social meaning. Ostensibly innocuous, certainly unthreatening (these ideas, after all, are implicit in the definitions of 'decoration' and 'ornament' as essentially superfluous, indulgent afterthoughts to the serious business of structure), architectural ornament provides fixed points of reference for connecting a building with notions of place. It enters into the debate around the beliefs and perceptions that constitute citizens' longings for the tangible proof of identity, of being in the world, afforded by the fantasy of an inalienable sense of place. The architectural solutions that the Constitutional Court and other recent examples discussed in the article offer are fairly modest, but their decorative programmes are consistently driven by the need to establish a rhetoric of 'community'. They enable a shift in the discourse of public architecture, away from staid notions of civic decorum and conventionalized grandeur, and toward open-endedness, inclusivity, and a sense of a deliberate playing with the elements and expectations of public space in relation to notions of individualized and personal place. They thus raise interesting questions, around not only the notion of constructing, both literally and metaphorically, 'imagined communities' (to use Benedict Anderson's phrase), but also the centrality of visual experience to urban experience in the construction of postcolonial, urban identity in postapartheid South Africa. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]
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