Solo Exhibition by George Hallett
Gallery MOMO, Cape Town presents a solo exhibition of work by contemporary South African artist George Hallett.
The history of South Africa is the history of space: who owns it, who’s lost it, who has access to it. George Hallett, born, 1942 in Cape Town is a documentarian of marginalised spaces. The two series exhibited in this show – District Six and Exiles – archive figures, communities, and events that would otherwise be lost or obscured from the public psyche.
Hallett was born and raised in District Six. From the time he learned to operate a camera, he was fascinated with capturing people’s lives as they converged in markets, cafés, churches, and streets. Thus, by 1966, when the National Party government announced that District Six was to be razed to the ground in order to make space for a new ‘whites-only area’, the artist had already assembled an archive of a vibrant neighbourhood on the brink of subjugation. This series is particularly striking for Hallett’s nuanced, rather than voyeuristic, approach to his subjects, maintaining the integrity of the community and its collective memory.
Hallett’s series on South African exiles have similar concerns with space. As the apartheid government systematically forced people out of their homes, and out of the country, those who spoke out and sought justice had to create alternative spaces in exile. Fleeing South Africa in 1970, the artist travelled throughout Europe, building an impressive portrait collection of fellow exiled South African artists, writers, and intellectuals.
As legacies of dispossession manifest today in issues of segregation, eviction, and gentrification, Hallett’s work stays relevant. Exhibiting his work in Church Square – which served as the site of a slave market in the 17th and 18th centuries – is an exigent, albeit harrowing, combination. There is work to be done to allay how histories of colonialism and apartheid continue to affect people’s everyday, material lives. But, the memory of people who enliven those histories – documented by an artist with an eye for humanity – remains an equally important venture.
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