What an idea!

Earlier in 2019, relatives and residents of Sophiatown, an iconic suburb in Johannesburg, came together to recapture the past experiences of Sophiatown: exhibitions, mappings, conversations. Together, we felt: This is not enough. We need to bring archives and art back to these streets. And just like that, the Sophiatown Arts Festival was born.

The Sophiatown Arts Festival is an annual heritage and contemporary arts festival that aims to bring people together. It is an initiative of residents, past and present, of the suburbs artists, researchers and curators, who have a strong relation with the suburb, be it intellectual, artistic, familiar, recreational.

The Sophiatown Arts Festival idea has grown in a community of people, who share an ongoing project history: Since 2012 and onwards, a project team of University of Johannesburg-affiliated researchers and enthusiastic residents, throughout the suburb, initiated a multi-layered historiography through multiple methods: Photo-projects, story-telling, mapping exercises, collective curating. 

What emerged in these years was a layered archive, a collection of stories, images, narratives and visions for an iconic place. This archive is the foundation of the community-driven initiative. Together, the team intends to invite the public to speak back to the repeatedly told story of Sophiatown in a conventional, multi-cultural sense of heritage. The project wants to dig deeper, and investigate what emerges as new visions from the heritage of an indeed special place, that has always, as the poet laureate of the festival, Dr. Don Mattera put it: “But there remains that unwritten manuscript”. Consequently, the launch of the Sophiatown Arts Festival in 2019 compels us to: Bring back the archives! 

To re-write the history of a place, as a story of and for the future, is a collective effort, that requires careful curation and a community-driven process. To guarantee awareness, we have actively, every month since March 2019, consistently held pop-up events in the most central public space of the suburb, that will be used as the main festival location: The Sophiatown Park. We would like to request the support of all artists not only our local artists, who are invited to respond to the archives. we wonld like to invite international musicians, poets and fashion designers. This curatorial effort addresses the fact that Sophiatown was never a national place; it always belonged to the world – both in its grandeur and sparkling creativity, as well as in its symbolism for greed and exclusion.

The Sophiatown Arts Festival is open for your contributions.

contact us at info@sophiatownartsfestival.co.za