Flapper girls, fire-stations and the fantasy world of Hollywood – Art Deco was everywhere and still is. You’ll find stunning Art Deco in Prince Albert, a Karoo “dorpie” (small town) to skyscrapers in African metropolises. Afterall, Art Deco design was infinitely adaptable, giving free reign to the imagination, celebrating fantasies, fears and desires. Art Deco’s hay day was between 1925 and 1940, even though the term was coined only in 1966 and it arrived later in Africa than Europe, UK and States.
Like its forerunner Art Nouveau, Art Deco was eclectic and drew on many sources. It borrowed from European historic styles which lent itself well to South Africa whose architecture was eclectic, derivative and hybrid pre 1930s. Art Deco flourished amid an existing Beaux-Arts classicism (see St George’s Mall, Cape Town images below) and the emerging, radical International Modern style. It gave a “cloak of modernist form concealing a traditional structure and layout”, to quote heritage architect and consultant Dr André van Graan (pictured), Cape Town’s Art Deco expert. Its geometric play of forms and other detailing actually helped Modernism to be accepted here after WWII.
Merensky Library, Pretoria
Hybrid, St George’s Mall
Beaux-Arts (St George’s Mall)
Dr van Graan
Shell House, Greenmarket Sq
Market House, Greenmarket Sq
Art Deco motifs were “Africanised”. Sometimes this is subtle and open to conjecture. The zigzag some say harks back to the chevron patterns on the ruins of the African Iron Age city, Great Zimbabwe (see image of Gerard Moerdyk’s Merensky Library, 1933). South Africa’s national flower, the King Protea lent itself to geometic forms perfect for facades – entablatures and between arches (spandrels). Both the zizgag and protea can be seen on Cape Town’s Commercial Union offices (now Market House) in Greenmarket Sq by William (Billy) H Grant,1932. See images. When this building opened a local journalist at the time wrote “Modernism in design almost “in excelsis” has come to Cape Town”. Baboons, elephants and even tribal figures are integral to Old Mutual Building’s facade (see images). It was inaugurated in 1940 and designed by two local architectural practices – Fred Glennie and Louw and Louw. A local material, Paarl granite, clads the whole building added to a sense of a national, rooted Art Deco.
Mutual’s main facade
African figures, Darling St
Spot the elephant heads
While the likes of Billy Grant (1877 – 1957) had to use magazines and catalogues for his Art Deco inspiration and references, Old Mutual paid for Fred Glennie and the Louws to go on a study trip to Europe and the States. No surprises that the Old Mutual Building looks like a smaller version of Empire State Building, designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, built 1930 – 1931. Old Mutual wanted their new headquarters to impress and it still does, even the detailing (eg banisters, light fittings and etched images by the lifts). Going inside gives the feeling of stepping back in time to a bygone era. I get this too at the small Art Deco optometrist, Mullers, opposite. It was designed by Frank Spears (1906 – 1991) when he worked at shopfitters Brimble & Briggs (no relation to me, btw). While Old Mutual Building is now an apartment block renamed Mutual Heights, re-purposed like most other Art Deco buildings here, Mullers is still an optometrist and in fact where I go for my annual eye test.
Entrance, Longmarket St
Mullers, Parliament St
Moving onto other city centres in South Africa, Johannesburg’s city centre has apparently the world’s third largest number of large Art Deco buildings, after (no less) New York and Miami. Near to Johannesburg, the small town of Springs has 34 small Art Deco buildings (Dr André van Graan did the survey), second only to Miami. Some call Durban South Africa’s Art Deco capital. It has an active Art Deco Society. Cape Town’s hosted the Art Deco World Congress in 2005. It no longer exists – all the more reason for us to read, write and engage with it. Sadly, but understandably, many owners rip out Art Deco features. I was speechless when a history teacher told me he did so for his Market House flat so it would do well on Airbnb, which it did!
Mullers; NB sunray windows
Old Mutual, Vestibule
Provincial Gov, W Cape
There is the informative and active Facebook page, Art Deco Architecture in Cape Town. The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation ran a series of Art Deco lectures during ‘hard’ lockdown mid 2020 on Art Deco. Dr André van Graan gave a brilliant ‘virtual tour’ of Cape Town’s Art Deco heritage. I’m glad he’ll be doing a similar one for the UCT Summer School, 14 Jan 2021. I’d better organise soon another of his tours, especially after the success of the recent one on 11 Nov (images above). We finished with supper at Gorgeous George – I couldn’t resist the birds’ eye view from its roof top restaurant overlooking some of Cape Town’s majestic commercial buildings of old we had seen at street level (eg The Shell offices, now Onomo Hotel, Greenmarket Sq – pictured). Do let me know if you would like your own tour, or would like to comment on the above. It would be great, as ever, to hear from you.
Kate, email@example.com or call/WhatsApp +27 (0)72 377 8014
Sources of info and recommended reading:
Art Deco 1910 – 1939 edited by Charlotte & Tim Benton and Ghislaine Wood, V&A (R729 from Takealot)
Dr André van Graan’s PhD Negotiating modernism in Cape Town: 1918-1948
Prof Federico Freschi Big Business Beautility: The Old Mutual Building and The Business of Belonging: Volkskapitalisme (I have digital copies if you need them)
Cape Town in the twentieth century, by Vivian Bickford Smith, Elizabeth van Heyningen and Nigel Worden (out of print R480 from Quagga Books); Frank Spears: The Painter by Melissa Sutherland; The Early Architects of Cape Town by Michael Walker, www.artefacts.co.za, www.theheritageportal.co.za, Pinterest
I also have a briefing on South African Art Deco I would be delighted to email you.
Ross Rayners (and I) are currently working on short video of André’s recent tour.
Michèle Betty and I are planning a poetry evening later this year in Cape Town where she is based. Michèle is the founder of Dryad Press and editor of New Contrast: South African Literary Journal.
Tony won the 2019 South African Award for Poetry for An Unobtrusive Vice. Dryad Press published this in 2018 so the above three senryū are not part of it. But it is a good time to buy this collection as Dryad are running a special online promotion: three books for the price of two. It is the sort of book that is good to have in your bedroom or bathroom – his use of words is quite beautiful, evocative yet minimal.
trail one after the other:
each unlike the rest
after brusque jostling
in shops with payday people:
the refuge of home
May arrived today
walking jogging biking in:
life remains fragile
Image: book cover from Dryad Press.
Being in lockdown has made me long for some of my favourite Cape Town sites. I love looking down on the city bowl from the top of Table Mountain, or standing in the courtyard of the Castle of Good Hope looking back up. I know that the Castle reminds us South Africans of a dark part of our past where colonialism took its roots and where slavery was entrenched in our history, where as children we were frightened to death to hear about the dungeon, but I prefer to think of the Castle as the centre point in a compass to many Cape Town’s stories.
Inside the walls of the Castle there are lots of tales to be told. Some claim to have seen the ghosts of Lady Anne Barnard, Governor Pieter Gysbert Noodt, the Lady in Grey and even a big black dog (there are stories of quirky animals both tame and wild).
The Castle is still used as barracks and it is easy to forget how important the Castle was strategically, albeit symbolically, for defense. Not many people know how specially selected women came here incognito, to monitor our coasts during WW2.
My favourite prisoner story is about Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne. He acted as a Boer spy under the alias “the Black Panther”. Between 1899 and 1901 he was imprisoned several times and was able to escape. Around 1901, after attempting to sabotage Cape Town, he and his party were sentenced to death. But he managed to avoid this by supplying the British Boer codes, which were actually false! He was one of a handful of prisoners who managed to escape from the Castle – or almost…He became a spy for the Nazi’s in WW2; the Duquesne Spy Ring is the largest espionage case in US history that ended in convictions.
Back to the Castle, looking towards the mountain from its walls you can just glimpse Philip Kgosana Drive. Kgosana was a mere 23 years when on 30 March 1960 he co-led 30 000 anti-pass protesters from Langa on this road. It was the day after the Sharpville Massacre, when police killed or wounded 250 pass protesters. The same tragedy could have happened here, but Kgosana convinced the crowd to disperse peacefully. Kgosana was arrested and fled the country while on bail. In 2016 he led a protest about the government’s lack of care for the poor. He died 13 months later and soon after on 12 Oct 2017 the road was named after him (previously it was De Waal Drive).
I have designed an unusual tour at the Castle featuring these and other lesser known tales about it and Cape Town. I look forward to sharing these with you once the Castle has re-opened to visitors (all enquiries welcome).
Jeanne Bonnema, tourist guide and Culture Connect associate.
Image credits: De Meillon c1830 and Thomas Bowler drawings (c1863 and 1864) from Parliament’s Collection, the rest from Wiki, the author (Jeanne) and editor (Kate Crane Briggs)
Confined to barracks – Lady Anne wouldn’t have had a problem with lockdown, especially in her later years when she lived like a recluse. She arrived in Cape Town 1797 and initially lived in the Castle of Good Hope where the barracks were (and still are).
Lady Anne set herself the challenge of painting the phenomenal view of Cape Town from the Castle (pictured). Unsurprisingly it took her three years to finish. Halfway through she wrote: “I wish I had not undertaken this panorama; I am really very bad at it and yet having undertaken it I do not like to give up.”
Thankfully she didn’t give up – it gives a fabulous and unique view of what Cape Town looked like just after the Dutch’s long occupation (nearly 150 years) and the very beginning of the British rule. Its emptiness has an extra resonance now with the Government’s COVID-19 measures.
Lady Anne’s picture is so wide it is in seven sections and hard to photograph, especially as it is now hanging in a passage of her family’s ancestral home in remote Fife, Scotland.
There is still Lady Anne’s presence at the Castle. There is a room named after her which she made into a ball room. A few people claim one of the ghosts there is her! Such a story will be part of Jeanne Bonnema’s new family tour of the Castle for Culture Connect.
Greg Clingham, (pictured below) Professor of English emeritus at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, will be giving an illustrated talk about Lady Anne and her watercolours for Culture Connect when he is next in town (he was due to give it on 16 April 2020). As this will be a long way off Tracey Randle, “Cape Herstorian”, be giving an illustrated talk about Lady Anne’s sitters, “it has been one of the most astonishing and exciting lines of research I have ever conducted.”
Both early evening events will be at the Vineyard, where there is display (image below) about Lady Anne and her husband, Andrew Barnard who was the colony’s secretary; the house they built is now part of the hotel. Dates will be announced post pandemic.
Stephen Taylor, has also agreed to give a talk on Lady Anne for Culture Connect when he is next in Cape Town (he is based in England). Stephen’s very readable, yet thorough biography, Defiance: the Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard, is published by Faber & Faber (2016 and 2017).
Rosalind Spears’ talk, Lady Anne Barnard, Balcarres and the Cape with fabulous music recordings as interludes, is planned for U3A Atlantic Seaboard 12 November 2020. Perhaps she should do it for Culture Connect too? In the meantime, do read Jeanne Bonnema’s short biography on Lady Anne below, with images from Rosalind Spears.
Slave and baboon, by Lady Anne
Vineyard’s Barnard display
Lady Anne Lindsay was born on the family estate of Balcarres (pictured below) in a remote part of Fife, Scotland, on 8 December 1750. She was the eldest of the 11 children of James Lindsay, the impoverished 5th Earl of Balcarres, and his wife, Anne Dalrymple, who was 40 years his junior. They had a governess at home. Anne subsequently developed her conversational skills in the Edinburgh salons of her grandmother Lady Dalrymple, amongst the best minds in Scotland including the philosopher David Hume.
Lady Anne had numerous admirers, many of whom would have been happy to lay their worldly goods at her feet. But she was unconvinced that she liked any of them well enough to marry them. Eventually she was persuaded to accept one of her suitors, a wealthy merchant Henry Swinton. But her family put a stop to it when they heard rumours he was not as rich as they had thought. Lady Anne got the blame and thought a coquette – a label that stuck with her for years.
In 1793 Lady Anne married Andrew Barnard; at the age of 43 years, considered very old at the time to become a wife. He was the son of the Bishop of Limerick. She had refused his proposals two years earlier, but now, to everyone’s amazement, she accepted him. She continued to use her title as she was the daughter of an earl and was known as Lady Anne Barnard for the rest of her life.
The couple retreated to Ireland where they attempted to live within their limited means. Anne was determined to get him a job so asked Henry Dundas (he was one of her previous suitors, a Scottish advocate and Tory politician and became Viscount Melville). Eventually Dundas offered him the position of secretary to the governor at the Cape of Good Hope. This was not quite what Anne had hoped for, but no other offers were likely.
Life at the Cape
In February 1797, the Barnards sailed for the Cape of Good Hope. They arrived three months later and lived in the Castle of Good Hope with the governor, Lord Macartney. Macartney’s wife had not travelled out with him and so Lady Anne acted as his hostess. They entertained the army officers and the Dutch colonists as well as visitors who were passing through, such as Richard Wellesley, Lord Mornington, elder brother of the Duke of Wellington.
A few weeks after arriving, Lady Anne climbed Table Mountain, highly unusual for women of her background. She went on several trips into the interior. She recorded what she saw both with words and drawings, including reflections on issues, such as the massive slave population in the Cape and the appalling treatment of local farm labourers.
The Barnards renovated a run-down cottage, Paradise, in Newlands Forest, part the way up Table Mountain and for a while they lived there (its ruins still exist and below is what it might have looked like, Wiki). In 1798 they built a house in Newlands, now part of the Vineyard hotel.
Lady Anne called these years the happiest of her life, marred only by her inability to have children. Andrew Barnard thrived under Macartney’s laid back leadership style, but when the governor returned to England because of ill health, the colony was temporarily put under the control of General Dundas, a nephew of Lady Anne’s old suitor. His authoritarian approach and contempt for Andrew Barnard made life difficult. Soon he was secretary in name only as General Dundas bypassed his approval.
Things were not easier with the new governor, Sir George Yonge. Lady Anne reported to Dundas that Yonge had accepted a huge bribe from an infamous slave trader to land lots of slaves. Yonge was removed from office. In 1801, before another governor could be appointed, Britain made peace with France. The colony was handed back to the Dutch, and so there was no need for a colonial secretary. Lady Anne was worried about a new position for her husband as Dundas was no longer in power. In January 1802, Anne travelled back to England to try and get him work, while he stayed until the official handover to the Dutch; neither realised it was going to take a year.
A disastrous posting
Three years after Barnard’s return, he was still without a job. Finally, in 1806 Henry James Fox, a prominent British Whig statesman, recommended that Andrew Barnard should get his old job back, as secretary to the new governor at the Cape. Windham, Secretary for War and the Colonies (one of Lady Anne’s former suitors) reluctantly agreed. But Lady Anne then panicked that her husband’s health would not stand up the Cape; she pleaded with Windham to give him something else, but he didn’t change his mind. Andrew Barnard said he would take the post or he would not get any more offers. Anne stayed in England to lobby for him.
The new governor, Lord Caledon, was young and inexperienced so relied heavily on Andrew Barnard. The governor was concerned about his secretary’s nausea and vomiting, especially as it got worse. On 27 October 1807, he died. Lady Anne was devastated and blamed Windham.
Lady Anne received a letter from Lord Caledon about a mixed-race girl, about six years old. She was the daughter of her husband and a slave woman, conceived after she had left for England in 1802. Anne’s reaction was unconventional for the time; she excused her husband’s infidelity, blaming herself for leaving him like a widower in South Africa. In 1809, she welcomed Christina Douglas, into her home at 21 Berkeley Square. (Cape Town based photographer Ed Suter, (picture below), found out last year, he is related to Christina; an exhibition of his work is currently touring Vineyard hotels).
Christina was not the only child that Lady Anne cared for. Barnard had fathered two illegitimate sons before his marriage and each of these placed a daughter in Lady Anne’s care – Margaret and Anne Hervey.
Lady Anne increasingly lived as a recluse, devoting her time to writing and drawing. She wrote a memoir of her life with Christina Douglas’s, help. Some relatives worried about it bringing the family into disgrace and she was adamant that her work was never to be published and her memoirs remain so today.
In 1822, Sir Walter Scott quoted a verse from Auld Robin Grey in The Pirate, specifically referring to it as Lady Anne Lindsay’s beautiful ballad. After maintaining her anonymity as the author through most of her life, she was finally given public credit for her poem.
Lady Anne died on 6 May 1825 at her home in Berkeley Square (her funeral was nearby at St George’s, Hanover Square, pictured). She left legacies to all three of the girls who lived with her, and, skipping over her brothers, left the rest of her property to her nephews, James and Lindsay.
Mainly The unconventional Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) by Rachel Knowles
Supplemented by Defiance: the Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard by Stephen Taylor 2016 (and Wiki)
For the Castle ghost stories: http://www.vanhunks.com/cape1/castle1.html and https://www.travelground.com/blog/things-go-bump-in-the- .
For Lady Anne’s writings https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/barnard/letters/letters.html
For a docu-drama, made in 1990 for SABC by Roberta Durrant on Lady Anne’s time at the Cape: https://www.penguinfilms.co.za/portfolio-item/lady-ann-barnhard/
For Balcarres and the Regency info by Jeanne Bonnama, email me (and with any comments and questions): firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, a picture of Rosalind Spears with the current Earl of Balcarres, in situ, 2019.
We met on a clear and sunny Saturday morning on the steps of the Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum at 71 Wale Street. The museum has just recently opened an exhibition after scholar Halim Gençoĝlu uncovered new details about the house’s history and connection with the notable Effendi family of Cape Town. Meeting us was Bilqees Baker, a qualified tour guide and also a long-time resident of and community activist for the Bo-Kaap. We began our walk from the museum to the Auwal Masjid (Mosque), the first and oldest mosque established in 1794 in Cape Town. Bliqees relayed the story of Coridon of Ceylon, a manumitted slave and the first Muslim to own property at the Cape and how his warehouse here on the corner of Dorp and Buitengracht eventually became the first mosque in southern Africa. Tuan Guru became its first imam and this also became the location of the first madrassa or school for Muslims at the Cape.
Walking over to the Nurul Islam Mosque just around the corner, Bliqees told us the story of how Coridon’s wife Trijn van de Kaap and subsequently her daughter, Saartjie, inherited the building and the prominent role Muslim women had in Cape Muslim history. Of particular note included discussions on naming customs in the Cape at the time of slavery (and therefore names like ‘van de Kaap’). From there, we walked to the famous Atlas spice shop where Bliqees talked about the flavours of Cape Malay cuisine as an organic development from the unique intersections and flows of cultures and people here at the Cape and we tried some common local sweets and savoury snacks.
From here we progressed to the archway that stands as a throughway between Wale up to Upper Dorp to meet Galija, a Bo-Kaap resident who was selling some of her home-baked goodies and the discussion turned towards local community activism and group efforts with charity, assisting the poor and soup kitchens, especially at this time of year – it was Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast between sunrise to sunset and there is an accentuated attentiveness to charity and almsgiving, and caring for those in need. Bliqees begins to discuss some of the current challenges facing the Bo-Kaap, particularly that of rising rates and intrusive high-rise block developments as a result of gentrification. Consequences include concerns over respect and consideration of the neighbourhood’s history and residents, and the high levels of tourism that has begun to bring in more crime. Although recently it has won heritage status as a protected neighbourhood, there are still unknowns as to what kinds of protections, restrictions, and benefits this designation will entail.
From here we walk sharply uphill to Tana Baru to visit the kramats that have survived. The first pieces of land comprising Tana Baru, meaning “New Ground,” was granted to Frans van Bengalen in 1805 after religious freedom was granted to Muslims at the Cape in 1804. Several notable figures in Cape Muslim history are buried here, including Tuan Guru of the Auwal Masjid, Abu Bakr Effendi – a scholar and educationalist who opened one of the earliest Muslim schools at the corner of Bree and Wale Streets, and others. There is also a small Chinese precinct at Tana Baru which have burials that dates back to 1772. In 1886, as a response to several disease epidemics at the Cape, the authorities closed Tana Baru. The Cape Muslim community saw this as a violation of their religious freedom. When a 12-year old child passed away, the community banded together under Abdol Burns and 3000 Muslims joined in a funeral procession to bury the child at Tana Baru. Burns and 12 others were arrested for this.
When we walked into the first Kramat – that of Tuan Guru’s, we could see that fresh incense had just been lit. Bliqees tells us that often we’d find residents of the Bo-Kaap who would walk to these kramats just for sanctuary, a quiet place to pray and reflect. The second kramat was that of Tuan Sayed Alawi, who was from Mocca in Yemen, but was probably brought to the Cape via Indonesia, where he had been working as a missionary. The grave for Paay Schaapie was also pointed out, as well as the small fenced off burial of the 12-year old child, who was the last person to be buried at Tana Baru.
The tour then ended with a homemade lunch in the Bo-Kaap home of Mymoena Saunders on Yusuf Drive. The tour was educational and inspiring, in no small part because it was led by a resident — the history is fascinating, but it is the personal touches, the anecdotes of someone who also is able to just tell stories of what it is like to live in the neighbourhood, to be a member of that community that makes all the difference. For a visitor, it is through these touches with Bliqees’ warm and engaging storytelling about her experiences living here, seeing her greet neighbours along the tour, and tell anecdotes the way that one might hear if they also lived in the neighbourhood — this is what brings the Bo-Kaap alive. To top it off with an authentic Cape Malay lunch, especially during Ramadan, it is something very special indeed.
By: Evie Wong
For further reading:
New exhibition retells Bo-Kaap Museum story
The Effendis of 71 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap
History of the Auwal Masjid
18 May 2019
At a recent Parliament Tour, one Culture Connector asked: “Isn’t all art political?” This transported me back to my days as an art history student in the 1980s at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, where I first saw art through the prism of Marxism, feminism and semiotics.
Just over 100 years ago, artists calling themselves Dada staged disruptive, experimental interventions against the violence and horror of the First World War. In the 1960s the Fluxus group made art to shock and change perceptions. In 1976, the iconic image of a dying teenage boy named Hector Peterson sent shockwaves across the globe and re-invigorated the international community’s attention toward the brutality of Apartheid.
South Africa’s decolonisation movement starting in 2015, students from the University of Cape Town got the the statue of colonist Cecil John Rhodes from its prominent and commemorative position in front of the university. During protests, some of the paintings from the university’s historic collection were burnt dividing public opinion worldwide.
Three years earlier, Brett Murray’s The Spear made national headlines. I’ve never witnessed art causing such a gigantic fuss and furore! The media had a field day as South Africa’s then-president Jacob Zuma was depicted in painting with his genitals exposed. Murray received lawsuits and even death threats, however, this was not the first time Murray sparked controversy and be the target of fervent public criticism. In 1998, Murray’s bronze sculpture titled Africa won the Cape Town Public Sculpture competition. The artwork’s unveiling outside St George’s Mall (a few steps away from the train station) was delayed as some felt that the image of the classic sculptural figure was debased by the Bart Simpson heads that covered it.
I had two other Brett Murray surprises recently. Despite Culture Connect’s many tours in Parliament, I never knew about his large artwork hanging at its 120 Plein Street foyer titled Yesterday and Tomorrow (2005). Also, in spite of the outrage over The Spear, Brett’s video work, Triumph, was included in South Africa’s 2015 Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the contemporary art world’s “Olympics”, and one of the best places to experience political art in many of its nuances.
Image above is from the Keiskamma Tapestry’s first democratic elections, 1994; image courtesy of Parliament.