For more than half a century, the Hong family ran a corner shop at 166 Caroline Street in Brixton, one of Joburg’s oldest residential suburbs. Immigrant-owned corner shops, much like spaza shops, are an iconic part of South African history and culture.
Mrs. Hong retired from running the shop — which was a cross between a convenience store and a general dealer — in 2018, and 166 Caroline Street is now a multi-purpose project space called Shade. For the rest of November, Shade is hosting an exhibition called “Behind that Window”: A collection of photos and artifacts from the Hong family’s 56 years in the shop.
I like this exhibition for several reasons. First it’s in Brixton. Brixton is next to Melville and has always been one of my favorite parts of town — it’s an unofficial border between the city and suburbs and straddles several interesting sectors of Joburg society.
I like the simplicity of the exhibition; it’s a collection of objects that tell the family’s story without a lot of verbal narrative. (This means you spend more time looking and less time reading, which I like.) The fact that the exhibition inhabits the actual space where these items were used makes it feel particularly poignant.
The exhibition is also a great illustration of the often-overlooked role that Chinese immigrants played in the evolution of Johannesburg. I wrote a story about this topic a few months ago for The Culture Trip, which I’m pretty proud of and happy to have an excuse to share here.
Lastly, the Caroline Street exhibition is a really fun thing to do on a summer weekend in Joburg. Art-exhibition-visiting has become one of my favorite socially distanced leisure activities — I missed it so much during the lockdown.
“Behind that Window” is open until 29 November, Wednesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There are also a few pieces on display at Breezeblock, which is one block up from 166 Caroline Street.