Security at the Margins Project

60+: Queer, Old Joburg

Wits City Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Jonathan Cane received a seed grant from Security at the Margins (SeaM) for a pilot research project aiming to use digital humanities to map queer spaces and places in Johannesburg under apartheid.

The project aims to contribute, at a micro-level, to the Security at the Margins – SeaM’s –  interest in the negotiation of ‘security on the margins’ in Johannesburg, a key urban area South Africa. Drawing on ten participants in this first instance, the links will be made between lives and geographies of place in Johannesburg. The idea is to link oral history to place as a key methodological intention and in this way to mapping – so interviewees will be asked variously to suggests interview sites (of their choice ranging from private to public spaces).

Words: Jonathan Cane

Images: one line credits Mishka Naidoo and Andrea Hayes

This project is a collaborative design piece evolving out of the archival work from the ongoing Wits City Institute, GALA and SeaM: Security at the Margins (Wits/Edinburgh) project to document the life histories of older LGBTIQ residents of Joburg. The design piece is a collaboration between Jonathan Cane of the Wits City Institute and designers Mishka Naidoo and Andrea Hayes. We centre the ideas of marginality and queer people’s lives before the end of apartheid and are especially interested in older queer people who can present us with a kind of map, a living archive. How, for many of these queer people, did home and homemaking become constructed as a mode of safety, what objects and structures coded a place for articulating freedom? What parts of Johannesburg, which places, which intersections, which locations had meaning? By researching the spatial histories of aged LGBTIQ persons we hope to map the profound changes associated with decriminalisation, the end of apartheid and the ongoing struggle for safe spaces for queer flourishing. The creation of a queer digital archive allows us to experiment with ‘cruising’ as an archival method, as digital practice and as process; exploring the use of the digital in order to collect, manage, process, analyse, share, protect, disseminate, store, access and organise.

The project opens up a number of questions: How can a digital archival platform make material accessible to those who might not easily engage with and contribute to queer histories? What kinds of spatial representations and connections are made possible by web-based archiving? What is the generative capability for the digital arts in terms of building a queer archive?