Art Deco Africa Research Group

The Art Deco Workparty

Newly established research group, The Art Deco Workparty has begun a series of site visits to explore the presence of Art Deco architecture in Africa. The collective of architects, artists and writers includes: Pamila Gupta, Ivan Vladislavić, Noëleen Murray, Jonathan Cane, Ruth Sacks, Johan Lagae, Alexander Opper.

Workparty: Pamila Gupta, Ivan Vladislavić, Noëleen Murray, Jonathan Cane, Ruth Sacks, Johan Lagae, Alexander Opper

Words: Noëleen Murray

The Art Deco Workparty is a collective formed in 2018 which brings together a set of architects, artists and writers interested in thinking about the presence of Art Deco architecture in Africa. Taking its cue from the idea of the ‘organised group of workmen [sic]’ that conventionally constitute a ‘crew’ or ‘gang’, our project takes us in situ to experience the architectures categorised Art Deco. Our sources are contained in the flourish of amateur interest around the identification, preservation, documentation and appreciation of Art Deco buildings, as an omission of sorts in the canon of architectural history of the continent.


Through the eyes of the enthusiast and the lovers of Art Deco that exist in the public domain, we have read blogposts, poured over styled Instagram images, carefully curated Pintrest assemblages, lifestyle and interior magazine articles, architectural tour maps, and traced heritage societies’ outings as method for our own party’s work days as we have embarked on visiting downtown centres across Johannesburg’s East Rand – tracing a trajectory from Springs to Johannesburg, and an axis of connection between the coastal decoratif of Durban and Maputo.

With visiting as our method – walking, looking, photographing, drawing, observing – we have been left our responses open to the visual and spatial dimensions as we experience these buildings and spaces. These are revealed through the smallest Deco detail variously: in typesetting of buildings’ names, light fittings, stair rails, ironmongery or the fireman’s pole, to the representational through decorative and artistic friezes and sculptural effects containing African animals and ‘native’ peoples,  fantastical docking poles, or portholes that hark to the machine-age’s obsession with Zeppelins, Aeroplanes or Ocean Liners.