Apartheid & After photography exhibition shows modern South Africa

Apartheid & After photography exhibition shows modern South Africa

Apartheid & After, the photography exhibition in Amsterdam’s Huis Marseille, unveils the interesting issue of where photographers whose work was instrumental in fighting the apartheid regime pointed their cameras after the apartheid era came to an end in 1990. 

Where did South African photographers with a solid international reputation like David Goldblatt met Paul Alberts, Pieter Hugo, Santu Mofokeng, Sabelo Mlangeni, Zanele Muholi, Jo Ractliffe, Michael Subotzky, Guy Tillim, Graeme Williams and turn to afterwards? How has the South Africa narrative changed?

The best answer to that question is of course provided by the photos themselves. Has South African democracy been given a face? Where is the real development happening? And where are the scars? Has South African national identity become stuck on a runaway merry-go-round, as the South African visual artist William Kentridge famously suggested? 

“One thing is clear: after apartheid, most South African photographers continued to make their own country their work domain, and in doing so they have gained a considerable international reputation”, one reviewer comments. 

The timing of the exhibition could not have been better. 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first free elections. The exhibition itself was inspired by an idea by David Goldblatt who felt it was time for an expose aimed at a Dutch audience of the quality, diversity and dynamism of life in contemporary South Africa. The photos would connect the two countries and play on the historic links between South Africa and the Netherlands. 

The exhibition zooms in on the work by David Goldblatt, whose work shows that with democracy, the issues photographers document have become a lot more diverse. Yet all the same, the exhibition Apartheid & After will have visitors come away once more aware of how powerfully the recent past can colour your perception of the present. 

The scars left in South Africa’s collective memory by its apartheid regime are also inscribed visually on its collective retina, and that’s something you can’t simply choose to ignore, it transpires.

The visibility of past influences on present day observations connects each and every photographer’s work in this exhibition. Of the twelve artists, all are still very much gripped by the pre-1990 events. 

“However powerful the individual images may be, this is photography with a hidden agenda – in a positive sense of the word. Knowledge of the past brings the present into sharp focus, and vice versa. It’s a tightrope act”, according to the organisers’ website.

The art of photography during the Apartheid years was still in its infancy and the newly emerged democracy has done a lot for its development. In the past two decades, a relatively high number of remarkable talents have emerged in Johannesburg stepping up the dynamism and the breadth of contemporary South African photography.  

Says Okwui Enwezor in the book  ‘Events of the Self: Portraiture and Social Identity: Contemporary African Photography from the Walther Collection’, published last year: ‘It is astonishing to think that until the beginning of the 1990s, merely two decades ago, modern and contemporary African photography was largely in the shadows.’  
You can visit the exhibition in Huis Marseille, which is located in Keizersgracht 401, right in the heart of the canal belt and not far from most apartments rented out by Amsterdam Apartments