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Exhibition: Taxi Hand Signs by Susan Woolf

Taxi Hand Signs by Johannesburg based artist Susan Woolf opened on 10 July at the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town. It consists of multiple medium works by the artist that explore the growing language of signing in South Africa, mostly in Johannesburg, as it has taken on new ways of allowing the communication between Taxi drivers and commuters. The night began with an introduction by the museums’ director, Gavin Morris, and the exhibition was formally opened by Fritha Langerman, the Director and Associate Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art.

This project by Susan Woolf has developed over 10 years. It stemmed from the artists interest in the blind; how semiotics, braille and sign language have allowed the blind to communicate in new innovative ways. This work speaks about how people manage Urban Geographies as a whole and the language that has developed from this is becoming known by word of mouth and its necessity.

Woolf’s work has an Anthropological background; her thesis for her PhD from the University of Witwatersrand was in both Anthropology and in Fine Arts. Woolf developed her own braille language, enabling people who are blind to be able to read the language of signing by using a combination of dots, squares, triangles and lines. Each of these shapes are read differently depending on their combination. There is an embedded social narrative in each of Woolf’s works; as Fritha Langerman pointed out during the opening, the paintings of different hand signs have a similar narrative quality to Giotto, the Renaissance artist, providing different pictorial comments.

The majority of the works included in this exhibition are interactive; the viewer is invited to touch the brail works that are on the walls, floor and books. This brail can be read, as can Woolf’s shadow works. These shadow works rely on light and hand crafted wooden and metal sculptures which, when light is shone at a particular angle, create shadows that read words and symbols. In this instance, the light provides a truth behind the works.

Visitors of this well put together exhibition are invited to interact with the works, to experience and have a glimpse into the world that non-sighted people live in. Woolf worked with a group of blind men who introduced her to the workings of the Taxi Hand Sign language, all of whom were present at the opening. This group of friendly people took viewers on guided tours of some of the works, explaining the language as well as the history of Taxi Hand Signs. It is an extremely successful exhibition, and will be on display at the Jewish Museum until September.

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