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Journey through South Africa’s collective memory with 30 Years the Occupants at HUB Gallery

South Africa’s rich tapestry of history, marked by trauma, resilience, and triumphs, continues to be woven through the art of storytelling. As the nation continues to grapple with its past, present and future, the construction of collective memory is a testament to its enduring national identity and aspirations.

HUB Gallery in Cape Town is currently hosting 30 Years the Occupants, a poignant exploration of South Africa’s narrative since 1994, on show until 31 May 2024. The exhibition brings a collection of photo essays from Matthew Willman’s ‘Mandela Heritage Collection’ together with a selection of works from the Spier Collection, a contemporary Southern African collection encapsulating three decades of democracy that represent a multiplicity of post-apartheid narratives.

Willman is a renowned documentary and fine art photographer born in Durban, South Africa, in 1979. His creativity was heavily shaped by his childhood during the latter years of apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s ‘walk to freedom’. As a commissioned photographer for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Willman went on to capture South Africa’s democratic shift. This afforded him many intimate experiences with the man whom, for Willman, ‘embodied the very spirit and conviction we all possess as Africans in the world today.’

The ‘Mandela Heritage Collection’ features a series of photographs taken over a number of years that capture Mandela, his journey, and key elements of the struggle, including images ‘Freedom Charter’ – ZK Matthews’s handwritten Freedom Charter – and ‘Rivonia Trial Notes’ – historic documents (unavailable to the public) from the infamous Rivonia Trial which saw Nelson Mandela and eight others sentenced to life in prison. The photographic essay also includes portraits of Mandela taken by Willman during his time with the legendary figure.

Willman’s thought-provoking works bring us back to the beginnings of our democracy. If the land is an archive and holds memories, visiting Robben Island now, for example, is a stark reminder of the struggle as well as the triumph, and Mandela is a symbol of hope and rejuvenation. 

The photographic essay will appear alongside a curated collection of around 20 photographs, paintings, mixed-media artworks and textile pieces from the Spier Collection that narrate an interconnected story of national memory and experience. Featuring artworks from renowned artists like John Murray, Billie Zangewa, Thandiwe Msebenzi, Sue Williamson, Ayana V Jackson and Cinga Samson, this collection engages with the ‘Mandela Heritage Collection’ and expands upon apartheid and post-apartheid narratives of women, religion, cultural traditions and physical space. 

Together, these works, as well as their appreciation, use the power of storytelling as a tool to recognise experience, representing both voices and silences. This exhibition considers the stories of our past, those of our present and the possibilities imagined for our future – inviting audiences to think carefully about their own internalisation of post-apartheid narratives.

Exhibition details 

Name: 30 Years the Occupants
Location: HUB Gallery, 25 Commercial Street, Cape Town, 8000, Western Cape 
Opening times: Mondays – Fridays, 09h00-16h00
Dates: Until 31 May 2024

For more information, visit Spier Arts Trust on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/spierartstrust/

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