In the culmination of a tour that has included venues across the world, ”Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life ” comes to South Africa. The exhibition offers an unprecedented and comprehensive historical overview of the pictorial response to Apartheid.

Apartheid transformed the modern political meaning of citizenship, inventing a wholly new society in fact and law. The result was a re-organization of civic, economic and political structures that penetrated even the most mundane aspects of social existence in South Africa. Institutions for housing, public amenities, transportation, education, tourism, religion and business were transformed for the sole purpose of denying and depriving Africans, “coloreds” and Asians of their basic civil rights, a transformation that extended into the personal lives of every South African.

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, including its impact on everyday life in South Africa today.

The exhibition argues that the rise of the Afrikaner National Party changed the pictorial perception of the country into a highly contested space based on the ideals of equality, democracy and civil rights. Photography was almost instantaneously alert to Apartheid, changing its own visual language from a purely anthropological tool into a social instrument. Because of this, no one else photographed South Africa’s liberation struggle better, more critically and incisively, with deep pictorial complexity and penetrating insight, than South African photographers. It is the goal of this exhibition to explore and pay tribute to their exceptional achievement.

Encompassing the entire East Wing of Museum Africa, Rise and Fall of Apartheid encompasses over 800 works by more than 70 photographers, artists and filmmakers. It features complex, vivid, evocative and dramatic visual productions that form part of modern South Africa’s historical record. The exhibition brings together a rich tapestry of materials that have rarely been shown together.


Editor’s Note: The exhibition was shown at the ICP in New York City from September 14, 2012 to January 6, 2013.