Visions of Apartheid

June 1, 2008
Transformation: Women greeting Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.

Transformation: Women greeting Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. George Hallet/Documentary of Archive Arts in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Duke is hosting an exhibition that documents life in South Africa during and after apartheid through the lenses of eight prominent photographers.

The exhibition, "Then & Now: Eight South African Photographers," is curated by South African photographer Paul Weinberg A.M. '06. To put together the exhibition, Weinberg reached out to seven of his colleagues who were involved in South Africa's resistance movement. Most were members of or contributors to Afrapix, a collective that documented life in the country during apartheid and repeatedly broke the law to send photographs to news organizations abroad.

"What the world saw under apartheid was primarily coming from these photographers," says Karen Glynn, a visual materials archivist at the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library who collaborated with Weinberg to bring the exhibition to Duke.

Weinberg asked each photographer for photos from before and after the fall of the apartheid government. "The idea of 'then and now' that underpins this exhibition conjures up the relatively simplistic opposites of struggle and liberation, justice and injustice, war and peace," Weinberg writes in the exhibition catalogue.

National Party supporters during apartheid

National Party supporters during apartheid. David Goldblatt/Documentary of Archive Arts in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

"The apartheid period gave us a simple construct that was easy to respond to: humanity and inhumanity, for and against, black and white, right and wrong," he writes. "Of course, while these juxtapositions remain meaningful, our country and society are also considerably more nuanced and complex than this."

He reflects on the process of interviewing his colleagues for the project. "It emerged that notions of 'then' and 'now' are not as clear as I had imagined at the outset; many of the participants experience an important continuity between the photographs they made then and the work they do now."

In addition to Weinberg, the photographers whose work is included in the show are David Goldblatt, George Hallett, Eric Miller, Cedric Nunn, Guy Tillim, Graeme Williams, and Gisele Wulfsohn. The photographs are on view in five venues around campus: the Special Collections Library, the Graduate Liberal Studies House, the Allen Building, Duke Divinity School's library, and the Center for Documentary Studies. Copies of the photos will remain in the Special Collections Library after the show ends.