Two men in their 80’s, one white one black, stand in front of a small audience at Haus der Kunst in Munich and embrace each other. This spontaneous demonstration of a heartfelt friendship between the photographer Peter Magubanes and photographer Jurgen Schadeberg is an emblematic moment for the preview night of the exhibition “Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and Bureaucracy in Everyday life”.
The International Center of Photography in New York, whose president Jeffrey Rosen is a DLD friend, worked together with Haus der Kunst to bring the collection of more than 500 photographs to Munich. The expansive exhibition takes the audience through the years of apartheid from 1948 to 1994, but is more than a historical account of a repressive and racist regime. Okwui Enwezor, director at Haus der Kunst and co-curator of the exhibition, emphasizes the importance of photography as a tool of expression in the struggle for equality and the end of apartheid.
The exhibition is free from the more stereotypical depiction of South Africa’s victimized black majority and a racist white minority. Most images capture the struggle of the South African majority which was against the Apartheid regime, whether black or white. Some photographs have been enlarged to cover the walls from ceiling to floor. One of them shows the “black sash ladies” who were middle class, white women, often from Jewish backgrounds, who protested against the apartheid regime in public spaces by wearing a black sash in solidarity with the oppressed population of their country. Next to this photograph is an image of a group of young black women holding up placards with protest slogans “We stand by our leaders” at the occasion of the Treason Trial in Johannesburg 1956.
Besides conveying the sense of uprising and struggle against brutal injustice, the exhibition manages to portray South Africa’s every day handling of divisive policies that permeated society. As Okwui Enwezor said in the opening speech “we are used to seeing exhibitions about European tragedies like the Holocaust (…) but we are less used to looking at these kinds of tragedies from Africa.” Another feature of the exhibition which brings close the reality of South African lives during Apartheid is the collection of “Drum – a Magazine of Africa for Africa”. Through this magazine Peter Magubanes met Jurgen Schadeberg, who was picture editor at “Drum”. A meeting which developed into a friendship that stands for the message of the exhibition - photography became a means of expression and represenation in a society which struggled to overcome a racist divide.
The exhibition officially opens on February 15th and runs until May 26th, 2013.