Roger Ballen’s Inside Out Centre for the Arts opens in Johannesburg
The Inside Out Centre for the Arts, founded by artist Roger Ballen, is Johannesburg’s newest hub for art related to the African continent
Founded by New York-born artist-photographer Roger Ballen, the Inside Out Centre for the Arts is set to become a significant landmark on bustling Jan Smuts Avenue in leafy Johannesburg (or Jozi as locals call it). Its mission is simple: exhibit, educate and promote art related to the African continent.
A project years in the making, and a boon for Jozi’s Forest Town neighbourhood, Inside Out Centre for the Arts is specifically settled near the historical Constitutional Hill and the energetic creative suburb of Rosebank. Together with the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Museum and the Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation, it forms part of a trinity of cultural and educational centres right in the hub of the city.
The inaugural show, titled ‘End of the Game,’ will run for a minimum of one year. It grapples with the decimation of wildlife in Africa, specifically starting in the mid-1800s, through both a historical and artistic lens. Roger Ballen uses his work to delve deeper into the psychological relationship humans have with the natural world. In most cases, this relationship is ‘adversarial, exploitative and destructive, and is reflective of a dystopian world in ecological crisis’, says Ballen.
And the show reveals exactly that. The introspective exhibition encompasses a cumulation of artefacts, paintings, drawings, film clips and documentary photographs. ‘This exhibition encourages vital discussions about our treatment of animals, wildlife management, responsible tourism and environmental stewardship in our current world,’ says Ballen, explaining that the show ‘attempts to record and highlight the historical significance and context of the “Golden Age’’ of African hunting expeditions by colonialists and powerful Western figureheads – such as Winston Churchill, FD Roosevelt, King Edward VIII and Ernest Hemingway.’
‘A central challenge in my career has been to locate the animal in the human being and the human being in the animal,’ says Ballen. ‘The rooms that I photograph represent the conflictual relationship between civilisation and nature, where opposites attract and break apart in a world built not on logic, but on irrationality. Delirium, mirage, dreams and nightmares coexist and cannot be categorized as light or dark.
‘Animals pervade my spaces: cats, dogs, rats, chickens, snakes and more. Dead and alive, big and small, wild and tame. Wherever you look, there are animals,’ he continues. ‘They appear in places that hardly belong. You cannot escape the animal. You cannot run away from the animal. The animal is deep inside. We come from the animal.’
The Inside Out Centre for the Arts was founded as a not-for-profit in 2008 – the new space is the physical manifestation of the foundation. The brutalist-inspired design of the building itself is based on the introspective idea of inside out. ‘I sometimes think that the building looks like it has been turned “inside out”,’ says Ballen, who worked closely with local architect Joe van Rooyen of JVR Architects to create this landmark building. Their vision was to give it both presence and personality – using raw concrete and plasterwork in both the interior and exterior surfaces that are seemingly intermingled.
This approach functions as a way to create drama by concealing the entrance. Once through the threshold it is the main exhibition space that opens up into a double-volume naturally lit space with a dazzling suspended barrel. The offices on the other hand are off to the side in a theatrical cantilevered space.
The centre will also facilitate a dynamic programme of educational talks, panel discussions, masterclasses and presentations that reflect on the current exhibition and on topics relevant to arts and culture.
Daniel Scheffler is a storyteller for The New York Times and others. He has a travel podcast with iHeart Media called Everywhere and a Substack newsletter, Withoutmaps, where he shares all his wild ways. He lives in New York with his husband and their pup.
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