Although Public Intimacy is a publication that accompanied the eponymous exhibition, it has an impressively long shelf life beyond the event. It features a range of texts and images that highlight the intensity of public encounters in contemporary South Africa and how artists and other cultural producers respond to this. The book taps into a larger field of responses to everyday life. Re-reading some of the texts from this publication makes evident most of the reasons why government regulations on ‘social distancing’ to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are near impossible to follow in a country with, as the curators observe, ‘quite dramatic and frightening contrasts between rich, mostly poor and an evolving middle class.’
Public Intimacy proposes a broad array of manifestations and functions of intimacy as an artistic theme in South Africa. It places intimacies on the human body, on the built environment, and within visual culture as forms of circulation of meaning and values. In the exhibition, intimacy becomes both an instrument of resistance and a coping mechanism in and after an era of extensive political and social repression.