For five decades Goldblatt has travelled South Africa photographing sites weighted with historical narrative: monuments, as well as private, religious and secular sites that declare or are expressive of the values or ethos of the people who built them.
These sites also allow us a glimpse into the everyday. Each place is a repository, a landscape containing an epic story that has involved whole communities. The experience is sometimes told through the memorialising of remarkable individuals.
Titled ‘Structures of Dominion & Democracy’, the exhibition traverses the distinct eras in our history. Instead of the word ‘Baasskap’, Goldblatt refers to the era of inequality as Dominion (see artist’s statement, below). Whereas recent exhibitions of the series have concentrated on the period after the fall of apartheid, the exhibition at KZNSA contains images dating back as far as 1963.
The chronology of this exhibition begins on the Day of the Covenant where, on 16 December 1963, Goldblatt photographed the dominating Voortrekker Monument with a replica of a Zulu hut at its feet. In the photograph a white child stoops to peer inside the hut, watched over by a supposedly caring adult. As Goldblatt has noted, “This day commemorated the vow taken by the Voortrekkers before the Battle of Blood River, that if God gave them victory over the Zulus, they would always keep this as a day of thanksgiving.” The photograph, then, is a study of dominance across cultures, and generations.
The colonialist narrative of the ‘Structures’ series presented at the KZNSA by Goldblatt begins, historically, with his 1993 image of the deceptively picturesque remnants of a wild almond hedge planted in 1660 to keep the indigenous Khoikhoi out of the first European settlement in South Africa. Other images, taken throughout the 1970s and 1980s, show the human cost of the turbulence of the times as people of colour were forcibly removed from their homes and shops. Elsewhere workers were housed in conditions of impoverishment; and the contrast between the monumental and the shameful shows the inherent contradiction of the apartheid ideology.
Of his images taken after the fall of apartheid, Goldblatt has said: “South Africans are familiar with the period of apartheid, but they are not very familiar with looking at what is emerging now.” Memorials to the fallen, and public art works, show the resolution and reconciliation that resulted. But the connotative landscape of Marikana where, in 2012, South African Police shot striking miners of the Lonro Platinum Mines shows the ever-jagged, severe edges at the extremity of the South African experience.
By looking at transforming spaces, David Goldblatt’s ‘Structures of Dominion & Democracy’ offers us a way of understanding the transformation of a people.