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20 Years of Democracy

Curator's Statement

This photographic exhibition reflects the special moments the ‘New South Africa’ ushered in as it moved from apartheid to democracy. Acclaimed author, public intellectual and former Vice-Chancellor of UCT, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, has noted that life in South Africa is about a dance between the spectacular and the ordinary. Using this metaphor, the exhibition shows iconic and ordinary moments that speak to the country’s past and its ongoing evolvement.

The exhibition showcases the work of some of South Africa’s leading photographers and also reflects new voices and lesser exposed contemporary work of South African photographers who, in a post-apartheid period, confronted issues that simply wouldn’t go away. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, and the return of land to the previously dispossessed were at the heart of apartheid’s legacy. New challenges that emerged in this period were the HIV & AIDS pandemic and the struggle to get our government to acknowledge its reality and provide sustainable treatment to its sufferers. Despite these dark issues, a current of celebration runs throughout. Beyond the symbolism embodied by Nelson Mandela himself and all he lived and stood for, photographers in this exhibition also explore the less travelled aspects of society (the ordinary) ranging from spirituality to identity and even fashion.

David Goldblatt, one of South Africa’s foremost photographers, whose work also appears in this exhibition sees his work not in distinct periods but as an ongoing visual interrogation of our society.

During the apartheid years my primary concern was with values: what our values were, how we had arrived at them, and particularly how we expressed them. And once you start with that line of thinking, there is no break, there is a continuation. I am still concerned with what our values are, and how we are expressing them.

- David Goldblatt, Then & Now, 2008

More interviews can be seen in a film called The Road to Then and Now, based on an exhibition of photographers who exhibited their best work ‘then’ and ‘now’.

This photographic exhibition, forming a significant part of an extensive digital collection, is drawn from the archives of UCT Libraries’ Special Collections which houses approximately one million photographs representing the work of over one hundred photographers. Participating photographers are: Jillian Edelstein, Ilan Godfrey, David Goldblatt, Louise Gubb, George Hallett, Chris Ledochowski, Paul Weinberg, Graeme Williams, Gisele Wulfsohn, Lindeka Qampi, and Dale Yudelman.

Paul Weinberg,
Senior Curator of Visual Archives,
UCT Libraries