In 1936 Johannesburg turned 50 years and to celebrate this jubilee the City hosted the Empire Exhibition. Held at Milner Park showgrounds, the Exhibition ran from September 1936 to January 1937 and attracted 2 million visitors. Aimed at promoting Johannesburg and the Union, the Exhibition was the ultimate expression of modernity in Africa. The latest technology in flight, train, automobiles was showcased, and speed and time records were challenged and broken in special races and long distance flight.
Visitors to Johannesburg would have been astounded at the transformation of the city. The Exhibition took place four years after the Union abandoned the gold standard, which resulted in the greatest boom the city’s history. By 1936 the city’s skyline had been transformed by art deco and streamline modern architecture. Milner Park itself boasted the exquisite Tower of Light, and a host of other buildings showcased the Union’s technological prowess and architectural flair.
There was one further Empire Exhibition before World War II changed everything and that was at Bellahouston in Glasgow - but Johannesburg is the only city to have retained its art deco tower. Today the Milner Park showground is the West Campus of Wits University – so there is also a story about heritage conservation and repurposing of heritage buildings.
Explore the meaning and legacy of the Empire Exhibition via visual material of the time presented by Prof. Katherine Munro, who captures the excitement of that magical year and the poignancy of a farewell to Empire that the Exhibition also represented.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book.
GUIDE: Prof. Katherine Munro
DATE & TIME: 23 February 2020 14h00
VENUE: Meet at the Tower of Light on West Campus, Wits.
COST: R100 per person
DURATION: Approximately 1.5 hours