Apartheid through an artist’s lens

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TO NDR Margaret1 . ABOVE AND BELOW: Untitled works by Margaret Bourke-White.

THE FASCINATING work of photographer Margaret Bourke-White can be viewed at the Durban Art Gallery in the exhibition Photographs in Black and White: Margaret Bourke-White and The Dawn of Apartheid.

A walkabout was conducted at the gallery by Professor Liechtenstein, Associate Professor of History (Indiana University), who shared his views on Bourke-White’s work and her history as one of the most famous photojournalists in the US.

In 1949, she travelled to South Africa on assignment for Life magazine. During her visit, she captured images of the apartheid era, more specifically the ravages of the Joburg miners, the drought and storms in the Dust Bowl; the desperation of victims displaced when rivers overflowed their banks and the plight of poor blacks and whites in the rural south.

Liechtenstein explained the significance of the various photographs depicted in Bourke-White’s work, particularly one photo displaying young black mine workers in the gold mines, and the interesting thing about it is that Bourke went underground herself into the mine shaft to capture that image and had asked the unnamed mine workers to pose for the photograph.

On the Rise and Fall of Apartheid website, it is said that Bourke-White’s experience as a combat photographer profoundly shaped her vision of the post-war world. She witnessed the horrors of World War II in its most brutal theatres: the Eastern Front from 1941-42; the stalled Allied invasion of Italy in the winter of 1943 and, of course, the final assault on Nazi Germany and the liberation of the concentration camps.

These experiences made Bourke-White an expert witness to the unfolding story taking place in South Africa.

TO NDR Margaret2

Brought into existence by whites in 1948, apartheid was evident and Bourke-White’s exhibition is extremely honest and powerful in its depiction of certain moments during the apartheid era.

The website further states that in a country of 10 million blacks and only 2.5 million whites, the latter retained all the political power, controlled all the fertile land and attempted to reduce blacks to the status of an impoverished servile class.

As Bourke-White wrote to a friend at the end of her four-month stay: South Africa “left me very angry, the complete assumption of white superiority and the total focusing of the whole country around the schemes of keeping black labour cheap, and segregated, and uneducated, and without freedom of movement”.

• The exhibition runs at the Durban Art Gallery, 2nd Floor, Durban City Hall. For more information, call the gallery at 031 311 2268.

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