Theses Master's

Art and Literature of Johannesburg: The telling of tailings

Angelucci, Valentina Flora

Johannesburg’s historic, iconic gold mine tailings once formed a topographic trail marking the 120km gold reef from which the city originated. The first tailing formations began in the late 1890s and as the City expanded around them, they became a marker of opulence, oppression and development. These controversial mounds represent the best and worst of Johannesburg’s history. They are its reason for being, but also a physical barrier that reinforced the apartheid regime. Since the 1970s Johannesburg’s tailings have been under a process of reclamation for latent minerals. This has the additional benefit of removing a toxic, radioactive source of pollution, and freeing up valuable land for development through the City. The complete removal of these mounds is imminent, and despite certain preservation efforts there are no plans in place to preserve the memory of these iconic, man-made landforms. To reveal their cultural significance, and establish an appropriate solution for memorialization, this thesis proposes to expand traditional assessment methodologies by including the representation of the mine tailings in art and literature. The analysis of the art and literature produced over the life span of this landscape provides a way for talking about and understanding this negative heritage. This method shifts assessment from quantitative to qualitative by thematizing collective associations and revealing the diverse, often conflicting overarching narratives that the mine tailings embody. Principal narratives extracted from the art and literature of Johannesburg center around the environment, racial relations, and City experience, and reveal the mine tailings to be the enabling element of a site-specific culture and identity. These narratives underpin the final recommendations for memorialization of the sites of former mine tailings, including programing, zoning and design ideas.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 24, 2019