September 11, 2018

South Africa: Welkom Today uses photography to open up perspectives

Photo: Ad van Denderen

The photography project Welkom Today opens up multiple histories and perspectives across generations and backgrounds in a multi-vocal, non-hierarchical way.

In the early 1990s, Dutch photographer Ad van Denderen travelled to Welkom, a small mining town in South Africa, to document the final days of apartheid. Twenty-five years later, his critically acclaimed photo book, Welkom in Suid-Afrika, was discovered by Lebohang Tlali (then a young art student in Cape Town), who grew up in Welkom’s neighbouring township, Thabong. The book served as an eye-opener: for the first time, Tlali saw how the white community had lived during apartheid. At the same time, the photographs from Thabong provided a feeling of recognition. In 2016 Tlali decided to reach out to Van Denderen, marking the start of a great collaboration.

Reflecting through photography
In order to think about the future, one must know the past. Taking this notion as a starting point, Tlali and Van Denderen initiated a series of photography workshops at three high schools in Welkom and Thabong. Using photography to reflect on their identity, the young ‘born free’ students became empowered participants in the project. Welkom Today combines new and existing photographs by Van Denderen, Tlali and their students as well as images from family albums and newspaper archives, interviews by journalist Margalith Kleijwegt and essays. The collaborative outcome will be part of a book, travelling exhibition and educational programme colouring the post-apartheid period from inside out, scheduled to be realised in 2019.

Welkom Today is supported by the Mondriaan Fund, DutchCulture’s Shared Cultural Heritage Matching Fund and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Pretoria. On 29 November, Ad van Denderen and Margalith Kleijwegt will give a Culture Talk at DutchCulture.