An exhibition geared towards change

2016-11-16 06:00

EVERY taxi commuter experiences that moment. They jump into a taxi, Isikwele (the old “square” taxi) – and they look for an empty seat where they can plonk their overburdened behind and then wonder: “How can someone manage to wake up so early in the morning only to ferry around a load of people who reek of overestimated opinions of themselves, wearing misery­ like cosmetics, and all the while whining about the wreck and its captain carting them to their pathetic nine to five?”

The taxi industry is known for being a hotbed of insult-laden bickering between drivers and passengers – a fertile breeding ground for intolerance.

A taxi driver’s daily job is to transport thousands of impatient passengers dashing off to work, and sometimes I ask: “How much can uMageza­ (taxi driver) take before he snaps like a frayed fan belt?”

Every morning, taxi drivers are forced to put up with negative stereotypes.

Yet we forget that the negative things we say about the taxi drivers might lead to them conforming to those stereotypes.

The term uMageza eMpompini (he or she who performs their daily ablutions at a garden or communal tap) was coined to mock the personal hygiene of our beloved taxi drivers.

It is most likely a label conceived by us, the passengers, who, during that rare moment of creativity, had ascended the socioeconomic strata, relegating taxi drivers to a lower rank – unclean and dirty - suggesting a lack of civility and education.

That is the crack in “blackness” that the exhibition uMageza uNyoko (uNyoko used as an offensive term) seeks to magnify and explore in greater detail – the pompous assumptions that passengers hold about themselves as opposed to their taxi driver counterparts.

This relationship between passenger and driver (change-flinging master and rickshaw operator) is a microcosm of modern society – a lopsided scale of wealth, privilege and assumed self-worth.

This conversation about the dynamics of our society intends to make us, the passengers, question our implicit role in perpetuating stereotypes, and in deepening the class divide, all while creating a fractured community of people who do not understand each other, who are suspicious of each other, who cannot tolerate each other and subsequently do not respect each other.

The exhibitionists (oMageza Taxi Association) – a collective of young artists influenced by a spectrum of communities that colour the South African landscape – seek to draw our attention to the demise of African values that revolve around showing respect and treating each other with hospitality.

The decision to use the taxi industry – and the sometimes toxic relationship between driver and commuter – as an example to best illustrate the seeming fall of African values is based on the fact that majority of South Africans have and continue to depend on this mode of transportation.

Therefore, this means a majority of South Africans have and continue to experience the rather concerning dilution of these values.

The ultimate goal of the association is to, through the exhibition, spark a conversation that will, in the end, seek solutions geared towards restoring these African values.

The exhibition opened this weekend at the Jo Anke Art Gallery in Johannesburg.

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