ARTCO Cape Town | Freedom or Death | Gideon Mendel
ARTCO is pleased to present Freedom or Death, an exhibition of photographic works by Gideon Mendel, opening on Saturday, 15 February 2020.
Comprised of a series of photographs taken across South Africa during the1980s and 1990s – a period of immense turmoil and disruption in the country – Freedom or Death comes as the inaugural exhibition of ARTCO Cape Town, and as the 30th commemoration of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison on 11 February 1990.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1959, Gideon Mendel began his career as a photojournalist, documenting and memorialising the explosive years in the run-up to 1994 – the year of South Africa’s first-ever democratic elections following the oppressive apartheid regime and years of colonial rule. The images Mendel captured during these years are presented in two series: one – images formally intended as an alert in a time of political emergency, today – following years of neglect – their subjects fight for recognition beneath blistered, blotched damage to the film itself; and two, images – accompanied by captions, credit stamps and layout markings intended for the press – presenting viewers with the transition between photographer and media, with the urgency for these images to get out into the world in the most effective way possible.
Titled Damage and Merged, these series reawaken and render the past relevant, making visible apartheid’s brutality, and, in their contemporary showcase, signifying a link to the legacy of violence still very present in the lives of South Africans today. Freedom or Death speaks of transformation – of the transition from repression to freedom, from totalitarian rule to democracy; of the struggle between memory and forgetting; of the changes imposed on us by the currents of time.
Of the work, in his essay Changes of state, Denis Hirson writes:
The changes to these images work arbitrarily in several directions, adding to and subtracting from the originals. Whatever the case, it is the process of change itself that one sees, both in the way the image has been altered and in its primary subject matter: people urgently needing to transform the basic conditions of their lives.