|Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life attempts to formulate an understanding of apartheid's legacy in South Africa through visual records. These images responded to the procedures and processes of the apartheid state from its beginning in 1948 to the first non-racial democratic elections that attended its demise in 1994. Featuring more than 600 documentary photographs, artworks, films, newsreel footage, books, magazines, and assorted archival documents.|
Starting in the entrance gallery (where two film clips are juxtaposed; one from 1948 showing the victorious Afrikaner National Party's celebration rally, and another of President F.W. De Klerk in February 1990 announcing Nelson Mandela's release from prison) the exhibition offers an absorbing exploration of one of the twentieth century's most contentious historical eras.
The exhibition highlights the different strategies adopted by photographers and artists; from social documentary to reportage, photo essays to artistic appropriation of press and archival material.
A fundamental argument of the exhibition is that the rise of the Afrikaner National Party to political power and its introduction of apartheid as the legal foundation of governance in 1948 changed the country's pictorial perception from a "relatively benign colonial space based on racial segregation to a highly contested space in which the majority of the population struggled for equality, democratic representation, and civil rights" (Okwui Enwezor). From the moment apartheid was introduced, photographers in South Africa were immediately aware of how these changes taking place in politics and society accordingly affected photography's visual language: The medium was transformed from a purely anthropological tool into a social instrument. No one photographed the struggle against apartheid better, more critically, and incisively than South African photographers. For that reason, with the notable exception of a few Western photographers and artists, including Ian Berry, Dan Weiner, Margaret Bourke-White, Hans Haacke, Adrian Piper, and others, the works in the exhibition are overwhelmingly produced by South African photographers.
Resisting the easy dichotomy of victims and oppressors, the photographers' images present the reading of an evolving dynamic of repression and resistance. Ranging in approach between "engaged" photography of photo essays to the "struggle" photography of social documentary which was aligned with activism, to photojournalistic reportage, the photographers did not only show African citizens as victims, but more importantly as agents of their own emancipation. Included in the exhibition are seminal works by Leon Levson, Eli Weinberg, David Goldblatt and members of Drum magazine, such as Peter Magubane, Jürgen Schadeberg, Alf Kumalo, Bob Gosani, G.R. Naidoo, and others in the 1950s. Also represented are the investigative street photography of Ernest Cole and George Hallett in the 1960s, the reportage of Sam Nzima, Noel Watson, and protest images of the Black Consciousness movement, and student marches in the 1970s to those of the Afrapix Collective in the 1980s, as well as reportages by the members of the so-called Bang Bang Club in the 1990s. The exhibition concludes with works by a younger generation of South African photographers, such as Sabelo Mlangeni and Thabiso Sekgale, and the collective Center for Historical Reenactments, whose projects offer subtle reappraisals of the aftereffects of apartheid still felt today.
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