Ninth Floor is a new body of paintings and etchings that continue Wafer’s interest in structural marginality and exclusion in contemporary South Africa. Following her previous inquiry into the Marikana massacre, Wafer’s current research on John Vorster Square – the police station that embodied the violence of the apartheid system – explores moments along South Africa’s post-democratic timeline in order to interrogate cultural change (or the lack thereof). The sinister, and in places deteriorating, facade of John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg Central Police Station, is, in this work, a signifier of the collective trauma embedded in many of our urban spaces. It embodies a shared anxiety that is a consequence of the brutality of daily life in South Africa. The menacing presence of the police station is a monument to systemic violence, and is painstakingly explored in Wafer’s large oil paintings.
The title is a reference to the poem In Detention by Chris van Wyk.
Since 2005, Wafer’s work has explored the anxiety associated with our inability to predict anything with confidence, to be sure of what might happen next. This is reflected in her early work in the form of building interiors imbued with the sinister, through which she seeks to convey the unease one feels over something that has not yet happened, and to suggest the threat of something that is always imminent but never arrived at or concluded. This anxiety is projected onto the political landscape in Mine, Wafer’s 2013 series of paintings on the events surrounding the Marikana massacre.
Wafer’s ongoing concern with a culture of intimidation in the South African Police Service is apparent in her frequent references to John Vorster Square, which seems not to have changed much since the apartheid regime collapsed. An etching titled Room 1008 (2014), for example, alludes to the death of Matthews Mojo Mabelane on 15 February 1977. Mabelane purportedly ‘fell’ from the tenth floor of the police station, landing on a vehicle parked below. There remains a great deal of mystery surrounding his death. This print was the first of a number of works exploring deaths in detention at the notorious police station during the 1970s and 80s.
In Ninth Floor, Wafer continues this exploration in order to inscribe and articulate her own response not only to the threat of the imminent, but also to police brutality and the systems and structures that sustain it. In this body of work, Wafer suggests that order and chaos are not very far apart.