Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and Bureaucracy of Everyday Life

Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and Bureaucracy of Everyday Life
Jurgen Schadeberg, Nelson Mandela, Treason Trial, 1958. Courtesy the artist.

Jurgen Schadeberg, Nelson Mandela, Treason Trial, 1958. Courtesy the artist.

From its establishment in 1948 to its dismantling in 1990, South Africa’s apartheid system is given an intricate visual and narrative treatment in this huge photography book. Published in conjunction with a 2012 exhibition, Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, which took place at New York’s Centre of Photography, the same-titled tome is the result of lengthy research by curator Okwui Enwezor and art historian and critic Rory Bester. Calabar-born Enwezor has a prolific track record that includes the role of artistic director of the second Johannesburg Biennale, artistic director ofDocumenta 11, Germany’s exhibition of modern and contemporary art, and curator of an impressive number of international exhibitions at venues including New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Tate Modern in London and Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Eli Weinberg, Nelson Mandela portrait wearing traditional beads and a bed spread. Hiding out from the police during his period as the “black pimpernel,” 1961. Courtesy of IDAFSA

Eli Weinberg, Nelson Mandela portrait wearing traditional beads and a bed spread. Hiding out from the police during his period as the “black pimpernel,” 1961. Courtesy of IDAFSA

His actual ‘breakthrough’ came in 1996 through his curation of the exhibition, In/sight at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. A showcase of thirty African photographers dating from 1940 to the mid 1990s, this was perhaps one of the roots of this latest South African photographic opus. Rise and Fall of Apartheid features images by 83 photographers, most, but not all of South African heritage. Big names include George Hallet a self-confessed ‘fly-on-the-wall’ photographer, who has been documenting African diasporic communities since 1965 and Peter Magubane who started his career in the mid 1950s, using a Kodak Brownie to capture political images for South Africa’s Drum magazine. The iconic work of Eli Weinberg, a Latvian-born photographer, whose anti-racist activism in South Africa led to his house-arrest is documented, as is the work of José Silva, Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek and Greg Marinovich – four photographers who founded the Bang Bang Club during South Africa’s transitional period of 1990-1994, and documented much of the unrest in the townships.

The chronological order of the book allows for images and detailed essays to be interwoven, and the world of apartheid explained in terms of resistance as well as the strange and unsettling banality of oppression. However, this isn’t a morbid book. It’s essentially a necessary and important document of a specific span of a very particular history, with the lives of the country’s citizens – both black and white – seen through the lenses of a diverse range of photographers, each presenting the country’s reality as they see it. The subjects of the images, be they migrant workers, student protesters, street cleaners, pall bearers, church goers, diplomats or nightclub dancers each have their own stories to tell through body language, signs, placards, victory signs, laughter, sorrow, or plain and direct eye to camera contact. Ending significantly in 1995, post Mandela’s inauguration as president, there’s perhaps an interesting and lingering question as to what another such well-researched publication documenting the country’s ‘new democracy’ in the era before and after Mandela’s passing might look like.

Gille de Vlieg, The street outside a meeting held to call on the Apartheid regime to stop harassing Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Johannesburg Centre, February 14, 1986. Copyright Gille de Vlieg

Gille de Vlieg, The street outside a meeting held to call on the Apartheid regime to stop harassing Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Johannesburg Centre, February 14, 1986. Copyright Gille de Vlieg

 

Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life is published by Prestel Publishing Limited and available on Amazon.

Prestel.com

Amazon.com

 

The exhibition Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life is showing at the MuseuMAfricA, an historical museum in Johannesburg until 29 June 2014.

 


Nana Ocran is a London-based writer and editor specializing in contemporary African culture. She was Editor-in- Chief for the Time Out Group’s series of guides to Lagos and Abuja, and has consulted on, and established publications on West African culture for the Danish Film Institute, the Arts Council England and the Institute of International Visual Arts. She was a nominee for CNN’s African Journalist of the Year (2011), and Curatorial Advisor for the Afrofuture programme at La Rinascente during Milan Design Week 2013. Nana Ocran is a regular features writer for Arik Airline’s in-flight magazine, Wings, in which she writes about art, lifestyle, innovation and cultural trends relating to Arik’s 33 destinations. She has been a jury member for Film Africa London and the Festival del Cinema Africano, d’Asia e America Latina, Milan. She currently blogs about Lagos for Virgin Atlantic.

Recommended Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *