The lens heals old wounds

2011-10-14 13:47

Percy Mabandu

Down in the labyrinthine cavern of the Joburg inner-city, hangs an opportunity to see the world through the lens of one Cedric Nunn.

The veteran photographer is presenting a retrospective exhibition at Museum Africa in the Newtown cultural precinct.
Nunn once famously declared: “I am committed, through my photographs, to contributing to societal change that will leave a positive legacy for the children of Africa.”

So if photographs can’t do anything but be seen, it will be enough to secure Nunn’s mission. For it’s in their sheer visibility that they become a basic contribution to memory at the very least.

But there is more to Nunn’s offering. He constructs a mature aesthetic out of the somewhat heavy content of his peculiar subjects. Included here are images that form part of Nunn’s various photo essays – Blood Relatives, Cuito Cuanavale, Hidden Years and Rural Development.

In Blood Relatives, he has put together a body of work that’s informed by a quasi-meditative and biographical vignette. He started work on this photo-essay in the 1980s while interrogating ideas of personal identity and belonging in apartheid South Africa as part of the struggle to humanise the country.

About his motivation to produce these images, he writes: “I felt uncomfortable with the moniker of ‘coloured’ or more exactly, ‘Cape Coloured’ bestowed upon me by the state and needed to come to a new understanding of my origins and place in my country.”

So it’s no wonder he used his own relatives as subjects in the photographs. This is where their strength is situated. The vastness of “skin types” reveals the ridiculousness of racial classification.

By facing up to the diversity that weaves one family together, a microcosm for the diversity that underpins the whole country is created.

The works that comprise Cuito Cuanavale take on much more political slant. The images speak to memories of the site of a conventional military battle in the late 1980s. The battle involved the Angolan rebels, Unita, and the former South African Defence Force, the Angolan Army and Cubans being the victors.

The images interrogate this scar that the nation wears with mixed feelings. The victorious memory it engenders mingles with the pain of loss too. The colour palette that Nunn masters – crimson reds and olive greens – makes everything all too real.

Nunn’s photography speaks with the warmth of the interior pulse of his subject matter. He has a singular, beautiful eye – go see what he has seen.

Nunn’s retrospective is on at Museum Africa until January 29

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