di Davide Marchetta
Milan, July 4 - A new show in Milan features the work of nearly 70 photographers and filmmakers who lived before and during South Africa's apartheid, from its rise after World War II and the struggle to defeat it to its dramatic fall in 1994. Opening July 9 at the Pac Pavilion of Contemporary Art, "Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and Bureaucracy of Everyday Life" features over 500 prints in addition to films, videos, documents, posters and magazines that act as a grand visual archive of one of the most crucial historic periods of the 20th century, the consequences of which still plague South African society. Curated by the International Center of Photography in New York, the important show has already received critical acclaim in the US and elsewhere in Europe, and has been given added significance as the world reflects on the legacy of 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who has been hospitalized for a life-threatening lung infection in recent weeks. Organizers spent six years gathering materials for the exhibition which covers just as many decades. The term 'apartheid', which in Afrikaans means 'separateness', is given stark poignancy in the black-and-white photos that show how society itself was divided into black and white, or rather white and everyone else. In 1948, new legislation classified inhabitants into four racial groups - white, native, coloured and Asian - setting the stage for segregation in residential areas, education, health care, and public services, and by 1970 the complete abolition of non-white political representation. The strength of the exhibition comes from letting the photographs taken at a time of such racist injustice speak for themselves, such as Peter Magubane's picture of an overlooked dead body on the road after police killed 69 unarmed black protesters in the township of Sharpeville, 30 miles south of Johannesburg, at a demonstration against a law requiring blacks to carry identifying passbooks. "The exhibition proposes a complex understanding of photography and the aesthetic power of the documentary form and honors the exceptional achievement of South African photographers," according to ICP. Works in the show were drawn from Drum Magazine of the 1950s, the Afrapix Collective from the 1980s and the Bang Bang Club, a group of four photographers who documented the final four years of Apartheid: Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek and Joao Silva. Other photographers featured in the show include Leon Levson, Eli Weinberg, David Goldblatt, Peter Magubane, Alf Khumalo, Jurgen Schadeberg, Sam Nzima, Ernest Cole, George Hallet, Omar Badsha, Gideon Mendel, Paul Weinberg and Greg Marinovich. The show also includes two rising South African talents, Sabelo Mlangeni and Thabiso Sekgale, whose work explores the aftermath of apartheid today.