A different face of Africa

Ernest Oppenheimer Park, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2009 / 2012

· Credit: Lard Buurman

Part of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s current show Africa: Architecture, Culture and Identity, Dutch photographer Lard Buurman’s images, gleaned from extended visits to 12 African cities, convey a sense of an urbanising continent at odds with western assumptions. ‘People don’t think of Africa as having a modern, urban culture, only a rural one. Anthropologist Filip De Boeck called them “invisible cities”,’ he says. Buurman’s  book Africa Junctions aimed to dispel the myths, portraying the continent’s cities as expanding so fast that maps and statistics are irrelevant when – or if – they are published. 

Buurman’s always been fascinated by public space, about how cities offer both ­anonymity and a chance for the individual to develop as part of a shared socio-cultural experience. He’s worked in Asia, but thinks high rises are not the real story of global cities: it’s what’s happening at their feet in the squares and streets that, in his images, inevitably teem with people – the buildings a backdrop to the sheer humanity. This shot is of a public square in Johannesburg city centre. In light of the current EU migrant issue, Buurman wished  to convey that transience is not an isolated case but the norm. 

‘They’re nearly all Zimbabwean refugees having to quit a church in the daytime before they can return to it again to sleep,’ he explains. ‘They’re evading the police but seem drawn to this park’s hillocks – maybe they’re more comfortable to lie on.’ His aim is to show migration not as a problem but a simple fact. ‘It looks like a lot people at leisure but look closer – it is not always what it seems.’