My eye catches the tips of the dark mountains on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela, and in a blink I find myself gazing at the shanty towns hugging their sides– an imperfect pyramid of white, orange, and gray rectangles dotted by an occasional tree, smoky green under the smog and burning heat of the equator. The geometric patterns remind me strangely of a Mondrian, though I know the landscape is not art, and my destination is far from destitute. It’s early morning, and from the taxi, on the way to the sun-bleached resort, I can’t quite see anyone moving within – such is the distance and the speed of travel.
Capetown, South Africa, is different, more unsettling. Heading off to the lush green vineyards, our rental car is so close that we can practically touch the hands of the people. Khayelitsha, an informal township, is flat and panoramic, dull and amorphous — stretching as far as the eye can see. Between the sheets of corrugated metal and makeshift wooden fences, there is a broken down car or other piece of rusty machinery. Inhabitants of the poorer sections stagger into the road, begging for food and money. Sick and hungry, young and old, they stoop in misery miles before Table Mountain, and I hang my head in shame.
I reflect on the batik I made years before — one in a small series, having learned the art from my friend Ruth, a native of Slough, England, and lover of medieval studies. Depicting red-roofed shanties under a purplish-blue canopy of stars, it was a small silk piece inspired by a simple line drawing. Thinner than the fabric of the third world, it brightened the ubiquitous white walls of our university rooms in contrast to the poorest corners of the world. I was yet to see the expanse of limited class mobility, roofed by the feudal division.
Referencing Our Film Screening, The End of Poverty? Tuesday, 9/21, 7-9pm