Since 2007 Jo Ractliffe's photography has focused on the aftermath of the war in Angola. Terreno Ocupado (2008) explored the social and spatial demographics of Angola's capital city, Luanda, five years after the civil war had ended. That series was followed by As Terras do Fim do Mundo (2010), which looked at the landscapes of war in southern Angola.
Ractliffe traces her interest in Angola back to the mid-1980s when she first read Another Day of Life (1976), Ryszard Kapuściński's account of events leading up to Angola's independence and subsequent civil war. The book resonated strongly with what was happening in South Africa at the time: great political upheaval and mass mobilisation against the apartheid government. Also, by then the South African Defence Force (SADF) was entrenched in Angola, fighting against the exiled Namibian liberation movement, SWAPO, and the Angolan army, FAPLA - a conflict later referred to in South Africa as the 'Border War'. Ractliffe writes:
For most South Africans Angola was perceived as a distant elsewhere - 'the border' - where brothers and boyfriends were sent as part of their military service. Now, over two decades since Namibia's independence and the withdrawal of SADF troops from the region, the 'Border War' remains something with which much ignorance and shame - for some, even betrayal - are associated.
During the making of As Terras do Fim do Mundo, I became curious about whether traces of the war could be found within South Africa's borders. I was interested in exploring the idea of a militarised landscape. But rather than spaces connected with the usual apparatus of South Africa's military, I wanted to search out sites that were intricately connected to that war.
Ractliffe identified and photographed at three primary locations: Pomfret, Kimberley (including Schmidtsdrift and Platfontein) and Riemvasmaak. All of these sites were occupied by the SADF during the mobilisation of the war and its aftermath. They also share histories of violence and dispossession during the apartheid era and, since our new democracy, reconciliation and redress. Ractliffe is interested in the intersection of these histories, how they impact now, in the present life of these places.
Ractliffe (born 1961 in Cape Town) has exhibited extensively in South Africa and internationally. Her series As Terras do Fim do Mundo has shown at the Walther Collection Project Space in New York (2011); Fotohof in Salzburg, Austria (2012); the Museet for Fotokunst in Odense, Denmark (2013); and the 2011 Rencontres d'Arles photography festival where she was a nominee for the Discovery Prize.
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