Photographic look at Xhosa history

Nelson Mandela Bay art lovers, historians and all those with an appetite for South Africa’s history through the decolonisation lens are in for a treat, with a photographic exhibition by acclaimed documentary photographer Cedric Nunn opening this weekend.

The NMMU Art Gallery, in collaboration with the University’s Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage and Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (Canrad), will be hosting the exhibition, titled “Unsettled: 100 Years of War”, from Saturday, May 27 to June 15.

Nunn, National Heritage Council chief executive advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa and NMMU Trust’s acting chief executive and historian Dr Denver Webb will hold a panel discussion at the opening on Saturday, at 5.30 for 6pm.

A media release by NMMU describes the exhibition as a quiet, yet complex series of photographic works that deals with the nine wars that Xhosa people were subjected to between 1779 and 1879 in their fight against Afrikaner and British colonial settler forces.

It is the culmination of the university’s Africa Week celebrations and forms part of a series of works that tie into the greater decolonisation narrative, with more exhibitions in the pipeline this year, that include one addressing the legacy of colonial dispossession and another looking at slavery.

Nunn, whose aim is to instigate social change and highlight lesser-seen aspects of society through his photography, sees a gap in the telling of this South African history.

Colonial aggression and Xhosa resistance

He believes little has been done to memorialise these acts of colonial aggression and Xhosa resistance, and decided to document the land where these struggles took place.

Nunn’s images transform this period of South African history into a visually provocative narrative.

His photographs give meaning to the critical narrative of the landscape and its current inhabitants, and makes visual the way in which history has shaped this part of the country.

“This essay looks at the land, which was occupied, desired, defended, lost and won. In it we see both the uses and states it is to be found in today, by both the victors and the vanquished.

“We are able to imagine the heroism and the misery it inflicted on its actors as they either defended or attacked. We see, too, how little of this memory is commemorated or honoured,” Nunn said.

“We see the smug conquerors, and the conquered. We see the continuing collaborations, which have always been necessary to maintain the status quo.

“We see the beauty, which stirred the souls of the inhabitants and the lust of the invaders.

“Through revisiting this painful past in the contemporary scenes of today, this work attempts to place the present in its factual context of dispossession and conquest.”

  • The exhibition will run at the NMMU Art Gallery on Bird Street until June 15. Gallery hours are 9.30am to 3pm on weekdays. Inquiries: Jonathan van der Walt (041) 504-3293.

Leave a Reply