Photos

Evocative Portraits from Apartheid South Africa on View in NYC

The Walther Collection continues its exploration of vernacular photography from the continent.

Summer exhibition Who I Am: Rediscovered Portraits from Apartheid South Africa showing at the Walther Collection Project Space in NYC presents a rare glimpse into the private lives and aspirations of Black, Indian and Coloured South Africans under Apartheid rule.


Spanning Indian photographer Singarum “Kitty” Jeevaruthnam Moodley’s portfolio from 1972 to 1984, the dynamic black-and-white photo portraits capture the experiences of the poor and working class as they experimented with traditional and modern fashion while bending societal norms of gender, ethnicity and culture.

“Some are clad in religious outfits, Zulu beadwork, or the garb of a traditional folk healer, while others are decked out in either their Sunday best or heart-wrenchingly shabby attire,” describe the exhibition's organizers. “At times, the same person shifts between worlds: in one enigmatic pair of portraits, a transgressive sitter appears in both masculine and feminine guises.”

Captured in Kitty’s studio in Pietermaritzburg, the photos offer a nostalgic, yet bracing perspective that counter the indelible and appalling images that typically dominate memories of Apartheid South Africa. The collection serves to enlarge demotic studio portraiture from the continent.

“A vibrant community institution and anti-apartheid hub, Kitty’s Studio provided a safe space for local clients to collaborate with their photographer in the construction of portraits that often overturned established conventions,” the organizers explain.

Who I Am runs from June 2 until September 3 and continues The Walther Collection’s exploration of vernacular photography. Previous exhibitions showcased the portraits of celebrated, late Malian photographers Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé and nineteenth-century African and colonial photography.

Take a look at the beautiful, provocative portraits below:

"Family Portrait" Courtesy of the Walther Collection

"Three Men Dancing In a Line" Courtesy of the Walther Collection

"Boy In a Wicker Chair" Courtesy of the Walther Collection

"Two Men With Floral Decoration" Courtesy of the Walther Collection

"Two Women Wearing Party Dresses" Courtesy of the Walther Collection

"Woman Wearing Zulu Beadwork and Holding Umbrella" Courtesy of the Walther Collection

"Woman Wearing Zulu Beadwork and Pants" Courtesy of the Walther Collection

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Image via Sheila Afari PR.

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