Artlooks & Artlines is a monthly column written by Ismail Mahomed, CEO of the Market Theatre Foundation.
At a reception in Newtown on Wednesday 18 October, the Market Theatre Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to place the photographic collection from the historic Between the States of Emergencies exhibition in the custodianship of the Market Theatre Foundation. The photographs were taken between 21 July 1985, when the State of Emergency was declared in South Africa by the Nationalist government, and 7 June 1990 when it was lifted in three of the then-four provinces of the Republic of South Africa. In the remaining province of Natal, the State of Emergency was lifted on 18 October 1990. The collection consists of photographs by Anna Zieminski, Guy Tillim, Joe Alfers, Gille de Vlieg, Chris Ledochowski, Juda Ngwenya, Ismail Lagardien, Jenny Altschuler, Jillian Edelstein, Ellen Elmendorp, Greg English, Louise Gubb, Hetty Zantman, Zubeida Vallie, Trevor Samson, Lesley Lawson, Eric Miller, Deseni Soobben, Steve Hilton-Barber, Mike Hutchings, Jenny Gordon, Walter Dhladhla, Billy Paddock and Peter Magubane. The exhibition itself was curated by renowned photojournalist, Robin Comley.
This date on which the collection of work was handed over to the Market Photo Workshop marked 27 years since the lifting of the State of Emergency. The signing of the MOU also took place on the 40th anniversary of the eve of Black Wednesday – that sad day on 19 October 1997 when the Nationalist government banned several media and publications; and which inevitably was an attempt to silence the work of even some of the photographers who are part of this iconic collection. The spirit of the photographers, however, soared above the banning order and they continued to communicate to South Africa and to the world the story a resilient nation committed to its fight for freedom and democracy. Like the rich legacy of productions that are presented on the stages of the Market Theatre, this photographic collection now in the custodianship of the Market Photo Workshop will also represent an important period of visual cultural practice in South Africa. ‘We are honoured that the Nelson Mandela Foundation recognises and trusts our efforts, our integrity and our capacity to tell South African stories through words and images,’ says Brand and Communications Manager of the Market Theatre Foundation, Zama Buthelezi. ‘This MOU reinforces our school’s reputation as a leader not only in offering excellent teaching practices but it also affirms our reputation as an advocate for documenting South African history through photography,’ she adds.
In archival terms, the custodianship with which the Nelson Mandela Foundation is entrusting this invaluable collection to the Market Theatre Foundation cannot be over-estimated. At a time when renowned South Africa artists are depositing their archives with museums and academic institutions outside of South Africa, the MOU between the Market Theatre Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Foundation sends out a powerful vote of confidence in the Market Theatre Foundation and the institution’s ability to be the champions of telling and conserving South Africa’s very textured historical, social and political legacy through artistic practice. ‘The Market Photo Workshop’s custodianship of this photographic collection will also be an important supplement to the curriculum, training and reference resources at the Market Photo Workshop. It will add an important dynamic to our public programming activities towards curating exhibitions and public engagement sessions that integrate and engage works produced pre-freedom and post-freedom to better understand and appreciate the shifts within the photography landscape of South Africa,’ says Lekgetho Makola, Head of the Market Photo Workshop. The signing of the MOU took place on a rather bitter-sweet day for the Market Theatre Foundation who were still trying to make sense of the passing of Peter McKenzie, a member of the Council of the Market Theatre Foundation. McKenzie died on Friday 13 October. McKenzie’s passionate interest in the Market Photo Workshop is written cross the DNA of the institution. With his profound interest in documenting South African history through photography, he no doubt would have been overjoyed by this important signing of an MOU to place the historic collection, Between the States of Emergency, in the custody of the Market Theatre Foundation.
McKenzie served on the Council of the Market Theatre Foundation since 2008 and was a dynamic curriculum consultant, teacher and mentor at the Market Photo Workshop. His most recent exhibition, Theemeri – walking on a bed of flowers, closed at the Market Theatre a fortnight before his death. McKenzie was as much a lover of theatre as he was of photography. Celebrated as a founding member of the Afrapix Collective, McKenzie has left an inspiring legacy in South Africa. His reputation as a legendary photographer will live on. He will always be celebrated for his deep passion for education and for his formidable activism to grow the skills of photographers from historically marginalised communities. Added to his legacy of activism is his remarkable career as a pioneering photojournalist and artist. McKenzie was on a research and curriculum development residency at the Market Photo Workshop collaborating on a project to decolonise the history of photography in Africa. The Market Photo Workshop will continue the legacy project through its ‘A History of African Photography – HOAP’ programme. ‘Peter McKenzie’s passing has come as a great shock to us. He played an active participatory role in the development and growth of the Market Photo Workshop,’ says Makola. During McKenzie’s illustrious career, he was the coordinator of the photojournalism department at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism from 1996 to 1999. He co-founded the Durban Center for Photography (DCP) at the KwaZulu-Natal Society for the Arts where he served as Council President. He was also a member of Durban-based multi-disciplinary art collective Dala.
In 1982, Mckenzie studied towards a Diploma in Photography at the Technikon Natal (now known as the Durban University of Technology – DUT). He was also an alum of the Poynter Institute in Florida, U.S.A. McKenzie has published and exhibited both locally and internationally. His photographic assignments also took him to Lagos, Nigeria with the World Press Foundation. He worked as a chief photographer, SADC region for the Pan African press agency PanaPress. His career also included stints at the Sunday Tribune and The Star, as well as being chief photographer at Drum magazine. ‘We remember Peter as a fearless artist and photographer who placed people at the centre of his work. Throughout his association with the Market Theatre Foundation as a teacher and as a member of the Council, he always displayed a strong sense of social justice, especially in his commitment towards supporting the underprivileged. We will always respect his work. We commit ourselves to advancing his legacy,’ says Kwanele Gumbi, the Chairman of the Market Theatre Foundation.