The unbearable whiteness of Sea Point’s curtains

Sunday Times Lifestyle


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

LIVE in that part of Sea Point nestled in the grand old lady’s cleavage that crinkles between Main and Beach roads and you live in a Woody Allen movie replete with neighbourly neuroses.

So when our French deco, 1930s apartment block emerged from renovation last winter a terrifying question loomed: what colour should the building be repainted?

A more relevant question would have been, “Should it be a smidgen darker or lighter than the beige it was? Or should we not get radical and stick with that?”

For weeks we stared up at allegedly different patches of “colour” slapped onto the walls, trying to tell them apart.

One morning the fashion forward handbag designer (FFHD) in No. 1 was standing across the street with the documentary filmmaker in No. 9 doing exactly that, mugs of tea in hand, when my wife and I appeared at the front gate on our bicycles.

The FFBHD looked my wife’s bike, then at the building, then at the documentary filmmaker. Then her eyes lit up: that’s it! The colour!

My wife’s bike is painted what is called “pistachio” by people who flog paint. It is as far from beige, chromatically and culturally, as Sea Point is from the Bo-Kaap.

How green was our building a few weeks later. So green that another neighbour asked, “What? We live in a mosque now?”

The scene does not feature in “White Curtains”, a “colouring book for everyone”. But it might have.

Curator Valerie Geselev noticed that all the curtains she saw in the windows of Sea Point flats were barely distinguishable variations white. Then she discovered that, often, the conformity had been ordered by the building’s body corporate.

Perhaps the facts that Geselev is an Israeli who grew up in Soviet Russia pushed the right buttons. Perhaps she was in the right place at the right time: Frank Lunar, an artist from Observatory, was a colleague in the book shop where she works. Perhaps this is how art collaborations happen.

And so we have “White Curtains”, a gently subversive collection of line drawings depicting scenes around Sea Point that’s itching to be filled with splodges of the stuff that makes body corporates blanche.

My favourite is of a domestic worker – black, of course – trying hard to hold onto a child – white, of course – who is about to be blown away by the wind sweeping the Promenade. 

Lunar channelled his inner Sea Point denizen to explain: “So there are only white curtains here, so what? It’s like cleaners are only poor black people. You’re just going to have to accept it.”

For Geselev, the medium was important to the message: “These colouring books are are a stupid trend. People call it ‘art therapy’, but what is the therapy when you distract yourself and escape from what’s happening?

“We recognised how we could make colouring a political activity instead of a distraction.” 

The neighbours, meanwhile, are lucky: my bike is pillar box red.

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