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Conversations · Exhibition-Related

“Translation / translocation: Johannesburg and the Impossibility of ‘cultural translation’”

Cover Image:

Santu Mofokeng, Doornfontien, Downtown, 1997. Silverprint. © Santu Mofokeng. Courtesy Lunetta Bartz, MAKER, Johannesburg

Johannesburg has been described as an “elusive metropolis.” Yet for many of its current denizens, elusiveness has given way to “occupation”—the unauthorized use and habitation of spaces that were once commercial, residential, or redundant. Although continuing to be ethnically diverse, new occupants of Johannesburg sometimes still perform “traditional” roles that may include fictionalized Zulu-ness prevalent in the taxi industry, the “security guard” with the wool coat and balaclava, and the Zulu women who have set up kitchens under the bridges or in the makeshift taxi ranks. Thus, when Donna Kukama swings from a bridge, she is observed by Zulu women who report her performance as ukudlala [play]. This presentation is a response to these snatches of Zulu sensibilities present in “After-after Tears.” It traces the historical antecedents of Johannesburg’s uneasy relationship with “Zulu” workers—men and women—and offers a contemporary reading of how certain forms of labor are now animating the defunct suburbs of the city.

“Translation / translocation: Johannesburg and the Impossibility of ‘cultural translation’” is organized in conjunction with “Museum as Hub: Center for Historical Reenactments: After-after Tears” on view on the Fifth Floor through July 7.


Hlonipha Mokoena received her PhD from the University of Cape Town in 2005. She is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, New York. Her articles have been published in Journal of Natal and Zulu History, Journal of Religion in Africa, Journal of Southern African Studies, Scrutiny2: Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa, and Baobab: South African Journal of New Writing. She has contributed opinion pieces and book reviews to African Studies Review, History & Theory, the Politics of Jacob Zuma, ACAS Bulletin No. 84, the blog Africa is a Country, and the exhibition “PASS-AGES: References & Footnotes.” Mokoena’s first book is on Magema M. Fuze (author of Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona [1922] / The Black People and Whence They Came [1979]), and is titled Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual.


Museum as Hub is made possible by

Museum as Hub and public programs are made possible, in part, by

Endowment support is provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Skadden, Arps Education Programs Fund, and the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education Programs at the New Museum.

Education and public programs are made possible by a generous grant from Goldman Sachs Gives at the recommendation of David B. Heller & Hermine Riegerl Heller.

Museum as Hub Residency Program is made possible through the lead support of

Additional funding is provided by Laurie Wolfert.

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