Elfriede Dreyer

Titus Matiyane, 2015, mixed media on paper, 120 cm x 800 cm. Courtesy Titus Matiyane

Titus Matiyane’s Panoramas of Cities of the World

In his panoramas of cities of the world, South African artist Titus Matiyane ‘controls’ views of the city by subjectively re-designing and re-presenting it according to his own interpretation and impression gleaned from the limited information about the city at his disposal. The artist ‘travels’ the world as a kind of global flâneur through gazing at the imagery of cities and city maps obtained from the Internet, stationary shops and travel programmes on television. Conceptually, he claims familiarity with and ownership of these spaces, although his source material is seldom derived from photographs of actual visits to the various locations. As such, he sets up a kind of psychogeographical relationship with the cities of the world, a correlation that mostly presents space, place and locality inaccurately and dependent on own interpretation.

  • Elfriede Dreyer
    Elfriede Dreyer

    Matiyane depicts cities of the world in the form of large mixed-media panoramas, utilising a naïve style of schematic outlining and an almost unsophisticated usage of coloured pencils and crayons, not unlike the early travelogues of the Renaissance and colonial explorers. In his panoramas, the landscape is flattened out into a subjective urban picturesque adorned with the city’s commercially most well-known markers functioning as a concise overview of or introduction to its most important historical events and its icons. Although Matiyane generally presents wide panoramas of cities, thus ‘walking’ multi-viewpoint compositions, he often creates panopticon-like designs in which he functions as a kind of ‘watchman’ surveying the city from a single point of observation – his own. In the late eighteenth century, the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham coined the idea of the panopticon as a particular type of institutional building design that could allow surveillance by a single watchman in such a way that the entire institution could be surveyed from a single angle. The term ‘panopticon’ has been derived from Panoptes in Greek mythology that was a giant with a hundred eyes and known as a very efficient watchman. Bentham's architectural designs were very much aimed at the design of institutions such as prisons, for instance, or corporate environments, where inmates or workers could be surveyed without them realising it. Bentham’s ideas acted as precursor to twentieth-century technology such as closed-circuit television (CCTV).

    Having been territorialised under the apartheid regime of segregation and living in Attridgeville a township outside Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital, Matiyane embarks on a kind of symbolic remapping of these histories. Operating without sufficient transport and with minimal equipment and art materials places limitations on his mobility and professional practice; within the context of the strenuous context of his daily battles, the spectacularity of powerful world cities and their apparent glitz and glamour to him seem like places of pleasure and the world like a global utopia where poverty and agony can be forgotten. In his Panorama of Africa: Cape to Cairo, Matiyane expresses a particular sense of place and a human condition, echoed in Alice Ming Wai Jim‘s (2008:264)  description of Hong Kong in ‘Mediating place-identity: Notes on Mathias Woo’s A Very Good City’:

    Over the last decade, contemporary art in Hong Kong, informed by travel(ing) theory, the special administrative region’s ambiguous (post) colonial-national-global connections and its inimitable set of historical and cultural situations, has been preoccupied with the themes of mobility, transition, and location in its representations of the city. This fixation, or, rather, the urgency of its mediation in not only artistic but also cultural, economic, and political arenas is inextricably linked to an ongoing elaboration of a Hong Kong identity. But assertions of “who we are” are often intimately related to suppositions of “where we are,” and ideas captured in the environmental psychological concept of place-identity.

    Matiyane’s sense of identity and notion of ‘who he is’ is similarly tied to ‘where he is’, but virtually he can be anywhere. In every panorama, the artist traces the contemporary city’s ontology of mobility and transitivity in images of technology, airplanes, trains and boats. To him these images represent power, positive energy and dynamism, being tropes of transition and movement towards improvement, development and transformation. His utopian imagery can be interpreted as being populated by a multitude of heterotopic elements, such as powerful personae and images of transitivity represented by trains and boats that function autonomously but concurrently in close relation to their socio-cultural and geopolitical contexts; as liminal instruments connecting space and place; and as vigorous agents of change. In a work such as Panorama of Gauteng (2014), for instance, the artist included images as well as the life history of Nelson Mandela, interpreted as the as an iconic symbol of transformation and change, and in Panorama of Africa: Cape to Cairo, he once again presents Mandela as the most powerful legacy in Africa. It becomes a stratagem of power mediation to point out the country’s instruments of advantage within the global sphere of competition. His vision radiates optimism and hope and deconstructs the notion of the processes of historisation as categorically fixed, predetermined and non-negotiable.

    Through the act of being empowered to depict any place in the world, the artist constructs his identity in the domain of the global self that utopianistically interacts with perceived spectacular environments. By mostly depicting cities that he has never been to, Matiyane expresses a desire and a longing for the exotic Other, yet his relationship to place is transmutative in essence. He imagines places where the home of the place–identity involves a process in which the self and local become metamorphosed into the global world. The artist becomes a ‘nomad’, displaced and diasporic in his pursuit of fame, wealth and global stardom through the fusion with ‘famous’ and ‘successful’ cities in his depictions. Global psychogeography is created in which cultural disparities are flattened in renderings of cities and their surrounding landscapes, each endowed with air and ground transport, patterns of housing, own histories, a national flag and a city centre. Becoming ‘playful masquerading’, the artist’s presentation of panoramic landscapes imbued by factual information makes the real, perceived and imaginary differences between cities, cultures and worlds fall away. Surveyed through the panopticon framework of his panoramas, there are superficially neither perceivable binaries of have and have-not, poverty and wealth; nor anxieties, losses or racial discrimination. East meets West meets Africa in a global blueprint of urban patterning.

    By crossing the borders of the self and the local in his depiction of cities, Matiyane becomes a virtual flâneur of the cities of the world and a cartographer of imagined spaces.


    Ming Wai Jim, A. Mediating place-identity: Notes on Mathias Woo’s A very good city, in Asselin, O, Lamoureux, J, Ross, C (eds). 2008. Precarious visualities: New perspectives on identification in contemporary art and visual culture. Montreal & Kingston/London/Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press.


    About the artist

    Major exhibitions since 2008

    2018, Venice Architecture Biennale, Japan Pavillion

    2018, Titus Matiyane’s Cities of the World, ZAM, The Hague

    2014, Cool Capital Biennale, curated by Elfriede Dreyer and Adele Adendorff. Panorama of Pretoria: Mamelodi to Soweto

    2014, Reserve Bank, Cool Capital Biennale exhibition. Panorama of Pretoria: Mamelodi to Soweto

    2013, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Artesis University College, Antwerp. Group exhibition, Nomad bodies curated by Elfriede Dreyer

    2012, Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg. Panorama of Polokwane to Sasolburg

    2012, Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, Pretoria. Group exhibition, Me 3, curated by Elfriede Dreyer

    2011, La Société générale, Casablanca, Morocco. Cities of the world exhibition and Panorama of Western Cape. Curated by Annemieke de Klerk

    2010, Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, Pretoria. Group exhibition, Cities in transition, with Eric Duplan and Lucas Thobejane, curated by Elfriede Dreyer

    2010, Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art. Panorama of Lille

    2010, Big 5 Festival, Teater aan het Spuy, The Hague. Panoramas of Cape Town, Berlin, Tanzania, Mali, Dubai, Johannesburg, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal. Curated by Annemieke de Klerk

    2009, UJ Gallery. Cities of the world. Panoramaas of New York, Pretoria, London, Dubai, Kwazulu Natal, Pietersburg to Sasolburg

    2008, Aedesland, Berlin. Cities of the world. Curated by Annemieke de Klerk

    2008, National Museum Of Mali, Bamako. Cities of the world. Curated by Annemieke de Klerk

    2008, Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, Pretoria. Group exhibition, On the globe, with Pieter Swanepoel and Diek Grobler, curated by Elfriede Dreyer

    2008, Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture, Delft. Cities of the world. Curated by Annemieke de Klerk


    • Annemieke de Klerk, Melinda Silverman, Stephen Hobbs, Wytze Patijn, 2007. Catalogue for the exhibition, Titus Matiyane: Cities of the World. Afdeling Bouwkunde, Technische Hogeschool Delft. 010 Publishers. Published for the purposes of the Cities of the World travelling exhibition, 2007- 2008 and the manifestation "African Perspectives" held December 6-8,2007, both commissioned by the Faculty of Architecture of Delft University of Technology.
    • Makorakora: Shaping wire into vehicles.  1985. SA Today. Article featuring photograph of model of spacecraft “Challenger” made by artist.
    • Rankin, E. 1994. Images of metal: Post-war sculptures and Assemblages in South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.



    published February 2020