© Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, 2004

Mandelenkosi Noqhayi, Accountancy student,
Motherwell Township, Eastern Cape

"According to my culture you have to go through this ritual; to be circumcised, to stay alone in the bush for three weeks and to meditate on your ancestors before you can become a man…I'm studying at university and I've taken time off to come here… People in the city think it's strange but they are out of touch with their rituals… After these three weeks…I will be a man".
© Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, 2004

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
Mr. Mkhize's portrait and other stories from the new South Africa

"I came here when I was just a boy. That was what you did... You left home when you could and came to the city to look for work. I lived alone in this hostel. Alone with 400 other men. It was dangerous in those days. The football field outside was often covered in blood. There was a war between many of the locals and many of us that came from far away. Now we have some quiet and it's only now my wife can sleep by my side" (Mr. Mkhize, an elderly Zulu man, speaking of his life in South Africa ten years after the end of the brutal Apartheid regime).

Before the portrait above was taken, Mr. Mkhize had only ever been photographed twice in his life. The first time was for a pass book, which the Apartheid government used to control his movements, the second was for the identity card that allowed him to vote in the first democratic election in 1994.

The struggles in South Africa have largely been documented in a very public almost sensationalist way, which, as the writer Njabulo S. Ndebele observed, has had the effect of silencing a more individual perspective. Ndebele recognises a need to focus now on the people; their experiences and their "deepest dreams for love, hope, compassion, newness and justice".

Over the last year the photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have undertaken a unique project aiming to do just that. Both of South African origin, they returned to their homeland to photograph and interview a wide range of people and places across the country. Xhoi bushmen, Jewish old-age pensioners, cadets in police training camps and prison inmates: all are given visibility and voice.

We learn of the hopes, dreams and fears of individuals such as Matapa Maila, a contestant in "Miss Teen South Africa" who wants to work for BMW; Tessa Davis, a female boxer at Eldorado Park, who wants a job and to be understood by her family; Mandllenkosi Noqhayi, a circumcision initiate, who wants to gain respect from his community and Mishack Masilela, a Miss Gay Soweto contestant who wants to be open about his sexuality and to marry the man that he loves. Through these personal tales and glimpses of lives, as they are actually lived, we gain insight into the wider issues facing South Africa today. Housing shortages, mass unemployment, widespread violent crime, the impact of economic immigrants and perhaps most significantly, the far reaching effect of the AIDS epidemic are given poignant expression through the minutiae of everyday experience. We see a country coming to terms with its past and looking forward to its future. A people excited by the possibility of change.

This body of work was commissioned by the South African government to be shown at the opening of the new Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, March 2004. The Court is built on the site of infamous jail called "The Fort", once used by the apartheid government to house activists. Ironically the new constitution was drawn up by previous inmate of "The Fort": Nelson Mandela. In his State of the Nation address, 24 May 1994, Mandela stated that the government's "single most important challenge is to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual". The principles of this address are now enshrined in the Constitution where individuals have access to a legal system set up to protect their basic human rights.

The exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery presents the collection for the first time outside South Africa.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, currently based in London, are the authors of two books: "Ghetto" a photographic study of 12 closed communities, produced during their three year stint as editors and principal photographers of Colors Magazine; and "Trust", a photographic monograph, which accompanied their solo show at the Hasselblad Centre in Sweden. Their work has been widely exhibited, including shows at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The British National Museum of Photography, Film and Television and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

A book of this work, "Mr. Mkhize's portrait and other stories from the new South Africa", is available at The Photographers' Gallery Bookshop and is published by Trolley.

Exhibition: 11 June - 1 August 2004
Gallery hours: Mon-Sat 11 am - 6 pm, Sun noon - 6 pm

The Photographers' Gallery
8 Great Newport Street
UK-London WC2H 7HY
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