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Maboneng Precinct

The arts gentrification of a Johannesburg neighborhood

by Aaron Kohn in Culture on 02 November 2012

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Named World Design Capital 2014, and host to the influential annual Design Indaba conference, Cape Town has left Johannesburg out of the spotlight. Most recently Adidas and Michel Gondry have both made their mark in "Jo'burg" with projects that may just change common notions of what some believe to be South Africa's most promising city.

Johannesburg's Maboneng neighborhood, sometimes called "The place of lights," has not been shining in recent years, turning what was once a vibrant city into a racially divided ghost town overwrought with police corruption, squatters from all over Africa, random violence and rampant poverty. However in 2009, young Jo'burg native Jonathan Liebmann opened Arts on Main as an artists' refuge and outlet in the city's abandoned warehouse district.

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"I couldn't stand living in the suburbs, so I had the option to leave, or to try to create an urban space to live and work in," says Liebmann. Renowned artist William Kentridge moved his studio into a large space at the center of Maboneng shortly after Arts on Main opened and, over time, the surrounding area has filled with restaurants, theaters, shops, a hotel and residences. There's now a waiting list to move into one of the redeveloped buildings, and a Sunday food and arts market has developed, often culminating in an evening rooftop party overlooking the city.

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Liebmann's Museum of African Design in Maboneng hosts Gondry's "Home Movie Factory" through 25 November. Derived from the plot of "Be Kind Rewind," a film written and directed by Gondry, the interactive film studio allows visitors to stop in and shoot their own filmmaking adventure in the experimental movie set.

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In early October Adidas landed in Maboneng with their own permanent concept space, AREA3. With a planned calendar of pop-ups and exhibitions, the multi-purpose location launched with "I Art Joburg," a month-long arts project headlined by renowned street artists Cameron Platterand Falko of South Africa, Steve "ESPO" Powers of New York, Remed of Madrid and Belgium-based Roa; and documented by street photographer Martha Cooper. The exhibition premiered films and featured talks and each of the six featured artists painted a large mural throughout the neighborhood.

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There is no doubt that the gentrification in Maboneng has been a strange one, but Johannesburg's city center is gradually improving with it. Liebmann's latest exhibition, which opened yesterday, 1 November, offers a comprehensive overview of the plans for the precinct's 25-building portfolio entitled "Maboneng 2.0 Shifting Urbanism."

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For more information on the Maboneng Precinct and Adidas' "I Art Joberg" visit their websites, and see the slideshow for a closer look at the artists of "I Art Joburg" exhibition city-wide murals.

Images courtesy of Aaron Kohn, Martha Cooper

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