Promises and Lies - The Project of Freedom

TAIGA RIVE
During the course of the month of August, there has been a display of photographs and quotes in the foyer of the Humanities Building. The exhibition, entitled Promises and Lies: The ANC, Exile and the Project of Freedom, is curated by Dr Siona O’Connell in partnership with the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD) and Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg. This was accompanied by the screening of the documentary Promises and Lies — Fault Lines in the ANC (directed and produced by O’Connell) in the Auditorium, followed by a talk on African politics by Brown University’s Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory, and Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Dr Barrymore Bogues. O’Connell, who has her Masters in Arts (African Studies), and Doctorate in Philosophy (African Studies), is currently working in UP Arts, having moved from UCT last year. The photographs are taken by award-winning British photographer Laurie Sparham. The event was hosted by UP Dean of Humanities Professor Vasu Reddy.

The photographs, taken between 1989 and 1990, show multiple South African iconic freedom fighters, and are representative of a great turning point in South Africa’s battle against oppression. The images are headed by purposefully emotive quotes from the ANC’s Freedom Charter such as “The people shall share in the country’s wealth”, “There shall be work and security” and “There shall be peace and friendship”. The choice to explore this concept though a more artistic medium, according to O’Connell, is crucial in finding new ways of thinking about the past and a new way of being.

The purpose of the exhibition as well as the documentary is to highlight some important contrasts in the state of politics currently, compared to the place from which it stemmed over 20 years ago. As is stated by Dr O’Connell, the exhibition “is positioned to ask UP students to consider that our history scripts our present, that the lines between good and bad, villain and hero… then and now are not as clear… [and] to recognise [that] the sacrifices and residues of a catastrophic past continue to shape the lives of millions of people in South Africa”.

The exhibition not only intends to raise questions but also addresses how we must engage with political issues we face today. Dr Bogues spoke about three vital aspects of this: decolonisation, freedom and the radical imagination. We need to challenge the western ideologies about the self and society. The radical imagination is the most important tool we have to allow us to break out of the deadlock that we find ourselves in and create a decolonised and free world for all people.

O’Connell comments that, “South Africa missed a crucial opportunity in 1994 to imagine an altogether new way of being”. As a student body, our political affiliations are secondary to why we choose to be active citizens. The view shared is that we are key players in this new struggle that should see us having “influence beyond the confines of a securitised campus” and “thinking beyond binaries with regard to race, gender [and] sexuality”.

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