Alex as viewed through the eyes of its youth

My Alex team member Zamahlubi NkosiZamahlubi Nkosi, one of 15 youngsters whose perceptions and visions of Alexandra, sharpened through a month of workshops, are showcased at the #MyAlex - Youth Perceptions of Place exhibition. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

The JDA's process-driven My Alex initiative has delivered a unique exhibition that invites its audience to see Alexandra through the eyes of young people living in the township. Rudo Mungoshi reports.

Visitors examine recreated Google maps of AlexandraVisitors examine recreated Google maps of Alexandra showing places of special meaning to the My Alex team. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)An excited crowd of kids and youngsters joined community members, artists and other members of the public at the opening of the #MyAlex - Youth Perceptions of Place exhibition at the Thusong Youth Centre in Alexandra on Thursday, 16 June.

The exhibition opening, timed to coincide with national Youth Day, showcased the work of 15 young people from Alexandra who have spent the last month honing their perceptions of their home township through an intense workshopping process.

The initiative, facilitated by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), sought to engage with youth aged 18-25 in a way that would enable them to communicate their experiences of Alexandra and their views on the township's future potential.

The exhibition, which opened with a multi-disciplinary performance by the My Alex team, features:

  • A photographic exhibition of the team's experiences and perceptions of Alex;
  • Google maps of places that have special meaning to the team;
  • Safe places, dangerous places, places to eat, places to play;
  • A 360 photosphere of their favourite and worst spaces in Alex; and
  • Space/opportunity for the public to add their own favourite/worst places to the team's Alex Google Maps.

A member of the public chats with one of the event organisersA member of the public chats with one of the event organisers, while a youngster takes a look at 360 photospheres of Alexandra through a special viewer. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)The team also created four zines - one that looks at the past, one at the present and one at the future of Alex, as well as one for Alex kids - for distribution to exhibition visitors.

My Alex experience 'helped me find my own voice'

For 25-year-old My Alex team member Lucky Mangena, it was "amazing" to see his work on display at exhibition. He believes the project has changed him profoundly, helping him to find his own voice and, with it, growing confidence and self-belief.

He said the team had taken over 800 photographs of their favourite and worst places in Alexandra, using three smartphones that they shared between them.

"It felt so good putting a smile on my family's face, and for me it was not about the money or material gain but giving my very best to the society."

Mangena said his My Alex experience had made him see Alexandra in a new light and to believe in hope once more.

A member of the public engages with one the My Alex 15A member of the public engages with one the My Alex 15 at the exhibition opening. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)His interaction with the residents of Alexandra had shown him that there was still a need to teach people the value of education. "Without education it is like having a promise unfulfilled and potential unrealised."

'I would not otherwise have made these connections'

As he spoke, groups of kids vied for turns to watch, through special viewing glasses, 360 photospheres of the My Alex team's favourite and worst spaces in Alex. Other youngsters, meanwhile, were enthusiastically adding pins to the My Alex Google Maps to mark out their own favourite or worst places in the township.

There were also scribble boards with markers to enable visitors to express their views of Alex and of the exhibition. "Good vibes," "Alex is the best "and "Alex is the mother of Africa" were just some of the comments.

Sello Makgotho, another of the team members, said the experience had been a valuable learning process for him.

"I am actually proud that I have managed to come this far," Makgotho said. "I consider this opportunity to be a blessing, and I am very happy with the kind of exposure I got and the places I have managed to visit."

Kids attending the exhibition openingKids attending the exhibition opening add their own views to the My Alex mix. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)Makgatho added that the workshops they went through and the cultural precincts they visited had motivated him to work harder. "If I had not been given this opportunity I would not I would not have made any connections."

Even though the project has formally concluded, Makgatho plans to keep working with his new-found friends to change people's perceptions of Alex.

'It has already begun changing perceptions in Alex'

Project facilitator Mariapaola McGurk said the 15 young participants had demonstrated great talent and initiative throughout the process.

"It has been great to see the young people learning and developing new skills, and expressing themselves in the project," McGurk said. "The joy and self-confidence that the launch brought to some of those young people is an example of the difference that youth work in our local community can make."

The JDA's planning and strategy executive manager, Douglas Cohen, praised the My Alex 15 for the level of enthusiasm that they displayed throughout the four weeks. The purpose of the project, he explained, was to unlock the youngsters' energy by exposing them to opportunities.

The My Alex team pose for a group photoThe My Alex team pose for a group photo with Project facilitator Mariapaola McGurk and the other organisers. (Photo by Rudo Mungoshi - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)"I know this is the end of the project, but I hope this work will continue and that the youth will figure out ways to make their dreams a reality. The exhibition is a reflection of the dreams that you can achieve."

Cohen added that the project had already begun changing perceptions within the community - those of the participants as those of the residents with whom they had engaged.

"They have also helped to change their own views of Alexandra by transforming quite ordinary local - and sometimes negative - landmarks into works of art."

Turiya Magadlela, a Fourways resident who attended the exhibition after being invited by a colleague, said she loved the concept behind the exhibition. "I find it very impressive that the JDA managed to involve the community, and it is fantastic for young people to be able to show what it is they do and show their talents."

The exhibition is open for free public viewing for the next two weeks at the Thusong Youth Centre, 138 12th Avenue, off Alfred Nzo Street (formerly Roosevelt Street) in Alexandra.

  • For more information, and to look back on the month and see what the My Alex team have been up to, see or follow #MyAlex