South African photographer exhibits at New York’s Met

27 August 2015

The works of a South African photographer are being showcased at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in Manhattan, USA.

The exhibition, featuring Jo Ractliffe’s three series of images from the aftermath of the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002) and its connection to the Border War (1966-89) fought by South Africans in Angola and Namibia, opened on 24 August.

“For Ractliffe and many other South African civilians, Angola during these wars was an abstract place, a ‘secret, unspoken location where brothers and boyfriends were sent as part of their military service,'” reads the Met website.

“When seen consecutively, these three series reveal Ractliffe’s deepening engagement with the region’s complex histories as an attempt to ‘retrieve a place for memory.'”

The series of photographs

The first set of images, Terreno Ocupado (2007-8), was taken when Ractliffe visited Angola’s capital city, Luanda, five years after the country’s civil war had ended. “These images highlight the structural instability of the capital’s shantytowns and question what it means for land to be occupied, abandoned, and struggled over,” notes the Met.

For the next set of photographs, Terras do Fim do Mundo (2009-10), Ractliffe accompanied ex-soldiers as they returned to Angola’s countryside. The images include items such as unmarked mass graves and minefields. The website, Broadway World, described how the landscape of those pictures can “function as a repository of histories and memories and yet not be apparent at first glance”.

The latest series, The Borderlands (2011-13), is Ractliffe’s most recent work in the exhibition. It shows the impact of the war in Angola within South Africa.

“She photographed militarised landscapes that had been occupied by the South African army, tracing histories of displacement that began during the colonial and apartheid periods and continue to unfold today,” explains the Met.

About the artist

Born in 1961 in Cape Town, Ractliffe now lives in Johannesburg. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and a Master of Fine Art from the University of Cape Town, and was a writing fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser) in Johannesburg in 2010.

“Ractliffe was nominated for the 2011 Discovery Prize at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, and As Terras do Fim do Mundo was nominated as best photo book of 2010 at the International Photo Book Festival in Kassel in June 2011,” says the Stevenson Gallery.

SAinfo reporter