The struggle to free South Africa from apartheid was one of the most remarkable challenges of the last century, and photographers played a crucial role in this struggle. By shifting their focus to provide visual resistance in the form of valuable documentation of everyday life, image-makers in South Africa had a significant impact on the course of the conflict.
The Apartheid Museum will launch an exhibition entitled Damage on the 30th of March as we end off the Human Rights Month.
Damage is an exhibition of water-damaged negatives from the 1980s by ‘struggle photographer’ Gideon Mendel. Farieda Nazier, an art practitioner and senior lecturer from UJ whose interest lies in the relationship between psychosocial ideas, history, art & design will open this exhibition.
“In the 1980s I was part of a young generation of ‘struggle photographers’ documenting the fight against apartheid. A box of my negatives from this period that I had left in storage was recently returned to me. I discovered that the box had been damaged by rain, with the top layers affected by moisture and mould”, explains Gideon Mendel.
These images emerge from a time of heroic activism when the power of the apartheid state seemed insurmountable.
“The markings that now overlay my original photographs are random impacts of time and water yet this process of decay produced something unexpectedly powerful. The energy of these captured moments seems magnified by the inadvertent damage, echoing the process of the fading of communal memory”, adds Mendel.
“There is no intentional manipulation here. My only action was in choosing to expand the frame, reconsidering what might be included in the final image.
This engagement with my archive is part of a personal search for new ways to read and position my work from this time”, he adds.
This exhibition will be on display at the Apartheid Museum until the end of June 2019.
Gideon Mendel’s intimate style of image-making and long-term commitment to socially engaged projects has earned him international recognition.
Born in Johannesburg in 1959, Mendel established his career with his searing photographs of the final years of apartheid.
“I feel that the negatives are now striking physical objects, their distortion speaking to a deeper truth beyond their original documentary format. I am presenting them here as testaments to idealism and struggle, reconsidered and reframed in all their historical materiality”, he concludes.