Photographs of hope

On Thursday, 5 December 2019 a one-day-only exhibition titled It all starts with me shows at the New Lecture Theatre, at the University of Cape Town.

The exhibition is the result of a research project run by ACC’s Mercy Brown-Luthango, that emerged out of a long standing partnership with the Tafelsig People’s Association (TPA), a community-based organisation in Tafelsig who had been engaged in housing struggles for a number of years.

“In 2013 I conducted research in Tafelsig looking at the impact of upgrading of informal settlements on safety and security. Following this, TPA realised that they wanted to engage the youth. That was the start of the youth work. In 2015 we worked with a group of young people from Tafelsig in collaboration with filmmakers Kurt Orderson and Nadine Cloete,” says Brown-Luthango.

For this iteration the TPA chose the participants, but interviews with prospective participants were also conducted to gauge their motivation for wanting to be part of the project.

The methodology involved running a number of workshops with the group eliciting their perceptions and ideas around social issues in their communities, the city and SA more broadly. An important aspect of the methodology is to take them on excursions to places outside their neighbourhoods.

“Previously we took participants on a graffiti tour in Woodstock, art exhibition in the central city and to climb Table Mountain. After two weeks of training with Kurt and Nadine, the group produced two short films. This time around we took the group to visit  Robben Island, the Castle of Good Hope and we had several workshops at A4 Arts Foundation.” she explains.

This time round they decided to use photography as a medium and also included youth from Philippi and Gugulethu. Photogaphy workshops were led by Rosca Warries and Dane van Rooyen from NoDread productions.

Participants were furnished with two disposable cameras to take photos. Under the guidance of Rosca and Kirsten Warries they then started working on the exhibition. They chose the photos they wanted to exhibit and wrote the curatorial statement. They also put together a photo book, designed by Bella Knemeyer, that will be launched at the exhibition.

“The idea was really to present the youths’ stories unfiltered, unscripted and unedited and so the original newsprint with their writing were carefully scanned and included in the photo book,” says Brown-Luthango. “The photographs chosen by the youth are very powerful. Whereas many of them depict the harsh realities of drugs, violence and poverty, there were many playful and joyful moments captured as well. More surprising was the youths’ curatorial statement about hope, unity and equality.”

According to Brown-Luthango another important theme that emerged was around movement and an acknowledgment that although they have not arrived yet and there are many obstacles on the way, they have a destination in mind — the reason for their hope.

“This was very unexpected for me, given that the previous group conveyed a sense of being stuck, socially, economically and spatially. We decided on an exhibition, because I think the photos and their message of hope needs to be shared with a bigger audience. It would also give them a sense of accomplishment and completion.”