Johannesburg's 1936 Empire Exhibition: interaction, segregation and modernity in a South African city

Robinson, Jennifer (2003). Johannesburg's 1936 Empire Exhibition: interaction, segregation and modernity in a South African city. Journal of Southern African Studies, 29(3) pp. 759–789.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0305707032000095018

Abstract

The staging of an Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg in 1936 brought together people, objects and ideas from across South Africa and the Empire. This paper will explore the implications of the encounters and juxtapositions that took place there for understanding the meanings of interaction, and segregation, in South African cities at that time. The Exhibition also brings into relief many of the practices of observation and presentation that had developed around the world's fair tradition for almost a century. The paper offers an account of visitor responses to the display of the 'modern' and the 'traditional' at the Exhibition. Overall, alongside the practices of segregation and dominance played out through the exhibition as well as in the city more generally, a range of shared enthusiasms across racial and cultural divides, as well as more sympathetic responses to displays of difference, are also reported. The implications of the historical analysis for contemporary attempts to transcend divisions in South African cities are referred to, and the possibilities for exploring histories of racial and cultural interaction are signposted. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

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