Published: October 2, 2012
On view through January 6 at the International Center of Photography, “Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life” offers an unprecedented and comprehensive historical overview of the pictorial response to apartheid. Through its images, this exhibition explores the significance of the 50-year civil rights struggle, from how apartheid defined and marked South Africa’s identity from 1948 to 1994 to the rise of Nelson Mandela and finally its lasting impact on society.
Curated by Okwui Enwezor with Rory Bester and based on more than six years of research, the exhibition examines the aesthetic power of the documentary form †from the photo essay to reportage, social documentary to photojournalism and art †in recording, analyzing, articulating and confronting the legacy of apartheid and its effect on everyday life in South Africa.
Apartheid, the compound Dutch word meaning separate (apart) and neighborhood (heid), was the political platform of Afrikaner nationalism before and after World War II. It created a political system designed specifically to promote racial segregation and enshrine white domination. In 1948, after the surprise victory of the Afrikaner National Party, apartheid was introduced as official state policy and organized across a widespread series of legislative programs.
A central premise of this exhibition is that South African photography, as known today, was essentially invented in 1948. The exhibition argues that the rise of the Afrikaner National Party to political power and its introduction of apartheid as the legal foundation of governance changed the pictorial perception of the country from a purely colonial space based on racial segregation to a highly contested space based on the ideals of equality, democracy and civil rights. Photography was almost instantaneously alert to this change and in turn transformed its own visual language from a purely anthropological tool to a social instrument.
Because of this, no one else photographed South Africa and the struggle against apartheid better, more critically and incisively, with deep pictorial complexity and penetrating insight than South African photographers. It is the goal if this exhibition to explore and pay tribute to their exceptional photographic achievement.
Encompassing the entire museum, including the exterior windows at ICP, this exhibition includes the work of nearly 70 photographers, artists and filmmakers.
The International Center of Photography is at 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street. For information, 212-857-0045 or www.icp.org .
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