Exhibitions To See: The Rise and Fall of Apartheid

By: Onke Madikizela (@mangutyan)

Curator: Okwui Enwezor

Cost: Free

Location: Museum Africa (Newtown, Johannesburg)

Dates: 13 February 2014 to 29 June 2014

With 800 photos and 27 videos, the exhibition is intended to be a wide-ranging historical showcase of the illustrative response to the fifty years of Apartheid by South African photographers. The works on show range from photo essay to reportage, social documentary to photojournalism and art.

The exhibition is based on the idea that local contemporary photography as we know it was birthed in 1948 when Apartheid was made the official governing policy. In response to a change in how the country was visually perceived, photography transformed from a tool to capture human moments to a social instrument expressing thoughts on civil rights. And so, no one could illustrate Apartheid better than local photographers.

Make sure to wear your most comfortable shoes! Looking at nearly 1000 pieces of educational visual art will feel like mental and physical exercise.However, the size of the exhibition and the focus on local photographers opens conversation by allowing each person to have their own reaction to each photo and doccie. So go with a friend!

Photo Credit: Eli Weinberg
Photo Credit: Eli Weinberg

As much as the exhibition illustrates Apartheid, it does not seem to punt a certain political party or villainize white people. But it is provocative and allows an authentic story to tell itself.

Strolling around the two floors of Apartheid in pictures, I felt pride looking at the classic Graeme Williams’ photo of Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela after his release from Paarl. Gideon Mendel’s photo of a white woman smiling with a vicious German shepherd guard dog behind her gate was scarily familiar. And I loved the DRUM Magazine showcase with beautiful black models.

The exhibition has been to New York, Milan and Munich before South Africa, but it is overwhelming in size and seems to have been curated in a hurry, something Okwui Enwezor has been criticised for. The question has been raised as to why a South African exhibition had been to other western countries before debuting in the country of the origin of its content. You can delve into this question deeper at the exhibition which is showing at Museum Africa, Newtown for two more months.

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