Over the years I have come to appreciate the fact that what makes certain neighborhoods attractive is not so clear cut. More often than not, however, fairly ordinary buildings that share a few common characteristics seem to be involved. This is the case in Brixton, Johannesburg, where I currently live and work. On my walks through the neighborhood I have started noticing certain houses which stand out to me and I started a series of paintings to document them for myself.
The Victorians who designed the houses used a toolbox of types (freestanding, semi-detached and row houses) as well as standard elements (verandas, chimneys, gables, windows, columns) from which they combined a variety of houses. Zoned for white people during Apartheid, Brixton today houses a diverse community of people from all over the country, continent and beyond. Today many of the house fronts have been enclosed or entirely obscured. The paintings strip away some of these details (like fortifications) to reveal the particular scale, thresholds and proportions that make them so intriguing. These kind of houses are not unique to Brixton but can be found in many of the older suburbs – like the bonded houses in Alexandra, Mayfair, Fietas and Sophia Town. Whilst the latter two have been destroyed during the implementation of Apartheid’s Group Areas Act, the term ‘gwarra’ – a way to playfully insult neighbours (and let off steam) from the comfort of your stoep – lives on. Here and there I have encountered stoeps from which a lively trade is taking place. This trade relies on openness and close proximity of the street. The stoep seems to have featured prominently in how people related to each other and to the safety and cohesiveness of communities. I wonder, since houses like this have been built all over the ‘Empire’, how people ‘gwarra’ in different parts of the world?