The building in question was formerly known as John Vorster Square and was not only a police station but the headquarters of the Special Branch who arrested, without warrant or trial, thousands of fellow citizens considered to be enemies of the apartheid state.
Today the building has been renamed the Johannesburg Central Police Station, and as David Goldblatt’s recent photograph taken on 27 February 2012 shows, it is the architectural personification of the banality of evil due to its inconspicuous form and facade. Goldblatt recently wrote about his motivations behind accumulating an impressive archive of memory, built up over more than a half century of observation, conceptualisation and realisation and culminating in the production of many hundreds of poignant photographic images that speak about the implications of manmade structures.
"More recently, I have photographed some structures eloquent of our still nascent democracy, and others of ineloquent strains of thought and governance that are insidiously and even blatantly undermining democracy...," says Goldblatt.
"In the belief that in what we build we express much about what we value, I look at South African structures as expressions and declarations of values. They speak to our ethos."
I am only aware of two South African artists who have made works related to this building’s dubious past. They are both women, both printmakers and their works are linked by the legacy of two political detainees that both fell to their death, at different times, from the 10th storey windows of this structure.
Both Elza Botha (b 1938) and Mary Wafer (b 1975) were obliged, when conceptualising and producing their respective works, to consider the structure and facade of this building carefully, as their main motivation and intention was, ultimately, to record the act and trajectory of a falling body in space. It is such a horrific prospect, understood across cultures past and present. This was evident in the aftermath of 9/11 when the photographs of the jumpers from the World Trade Centre buildings were censored after a very short time as the images were considered too disturbing. To jump into open space with little or no chance of survival is an inhumane act, whether imposed or self-inflicted.