The art of walking – mobility, aesthetics, and transportation

Zebra Crossing by Elbie Visser
the art of walking - artwork about walking, transportation and aesthetics
Traverse by Elbie Visser
Ditabana di tswala ditaba. (Mighty things rise from trivial ones.) by Katleho Mosia
Behind the mist III by Bongani Khumalo

South Africa is a geographically and economically diverse country with a varied modes of travel for people, goods, and even information. For centuries artists have depicted these modes as a representation of the world they occupy as well as what the different types of transportation say about the people using them.

Throughout art history the action of walking has had a predominant pictorial place. At its most basic understanding – this type of rendition is an encouragement for viewers to see the extraordinary in the mundane. In thinking about this, walking can be understood as being more about the ground, the path, and the architecture than about the walker itself.  When observing work in this genre – I would encourage you to question where the subject may be going to or what they might be leaving, and then, as you yourself move around the city, these works encourage you to consider yourself as that subject. While a sensory relationship with the city may not be on every pedestrian’s mind as they commute, run errands, or simply meander, it is still an act of individual wayfinding or imitative movements all within a situated landscape or city plan. 

Walking has been described as either a loss of control or as a seizing of space – explorer, worker, or migrant, each observes the world in a way that is distinct from biking, driving, or running – by stepping into the streets, walkers give themselves over to designed as unanticipated paths alike. In the same way, each person has a unique experience of the mundane – often when it comes to different types of travel, we should consider what can we learn about transportation and travel in art as an offshoot of the experience of walking. Consider a typical day – what did you do and where did you go? More relevantly – how did you get there? Transportation in art often explores deeper themes of movement, progress, and modernity. 

Through another lens – the use of transportation as a subject matter can also serve as commentary on the fast-paced nature of contemporary society and the impact of technology on our everyday lives. Methods of transportation such as the ubiquitous taxi in South African artworks serve as a symbol of the connection between people and places, identity, culture, and community. The inclusion of transport in artwork can also be a way for the artist to express their personal experiences, memories, and feelings. 

Through this understanding, it is important to situate the rise of transit art within a political and aesthetic economy and consider that the art has become ‘expedient’ in the way that it is implicated in elite, exclusionary and unsustainable processes of urbanization. Scholar, Michel de Certeau highlights the idea that walking ‘enunciates’ spaces and is a creative, elusive, and resistive everyday practice that seeks to encourage the viewer to look at the deeper historical connotations of the artwork to gain a greater understanding of the world around us.

To conclude, transportation and travel have long been a subject matter of artists throughout history, and South Africa is no exception. Through art, transportation can serve as a symbol of connection, identity, and community. It can also be used as a way for artists to express their personal experiences and feelings, while also providing commentary on the fast-paced nature of contemporary society and the impact of technology on our lives. Ultimately, the art of movement and transportation encourages viewers to look deeper into the historical and cultural contexts of the artwork, and gain a greater understanding of the world around us.

Albany Walk I by Candice Kramer
Keep Walking by Candice Kramer
Albany Walk II by Candice Kramer

Written and Compiled by Shayna Rosendorff 

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