South Africa had a long and frequently traumatic colonial relationship with Namibia, but this seems little remembered in contemporary South Africa. Namibia became a South African protectorate after World War I, and subsequently apartheid’s ‘fifth province’, winning its Independence in 1990 after a cruel and highly censored war that lasted more than 20 years.
This exhibition draws on the photographic archive and considers its role in remembering, not remembering, and reconfiguring historical moments, in individual and collective narratives and silences. Darren Newbury (2015) writes that:
“the role of the curator here is unlike that of the historian; the task is not so much to recount the event as to ‘prolong’ it, to hold the photograph open to the present” (2015: 161).
Whilst photographs are materially ‘flat’, the idea of holding them open to the present invokes the theme of physical and metaphorical containers, each holding multiple and even conflicting stories. The photographic archive is a repository, a container; so is memory, so are graves. These spaces and objects may be open, closed or partially so. They are the sites of power and production of knowledge, frequently contested. Kwanyama King Mandume’s pot and United Nations ‘peacemonger’ Marrack Goulding’s trunk embody the idea of archive as container. Whilst they respectively symbolise the beginning and the end of South Africa’s long occupation of Namibia, they also beg questions about memory, trauma and silence.
Photographs are thus not static moments in time but processual ones – the ongoing sites of social encounters, in which archivists, historians and curators are implicated. This online exhibition www.gunsandrain.com/namibia explores the ways in which archival and documentary photographs have been appropriated by contemporary artists (John Muafangejo, Christo Doherty, Erik Schnack) to ask fresh questions and build new layers of meaning around these images. The photographic archive is not just a space for witnessing the past, but a site for dialogue between past and present.
This exhibition is part of a collectively curated group exhibition by postgraduate students in the Wits History of Art programme. The full set of curating projects can be found at http://hartcurating.wits.ac.za