Exhibition about Port Elizabeth's past makes waves abroad

JUNE 3, 2015

An exhibition, dubbed Double Vision, is showing in the UK, where it is exploring the impact of the forced removal of inhabitants from Port Elizabeth’s South End neighbourhood to segregated townships. The exhibition features remarkable archival and contemporary photographs of Port Elizabeth then and now and were compiled by former South End resident, Yusuf Agherdien.

According to the LSE Cities and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which are hosting the exhibition; "Double Vision is a photographic reflection on the resilience of memory in the face of swift and brutal changes to urban and social landscapes, as well as a deeply personal autobiographical narrative linked to urban space in a South African post-apartheid city."

The Rudolph Street mosque, Port Elizabeth (1970)Rudolph Street mosque (2015) 


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The organisers said that the neighbourhood of South End in Port Elizabeth was declared a “white” area under the 1950 Group Areas Act, as were many other such neighbourhoods in cities and towns across the country.

Between 1965 and 1975, the residents of this culturally and racially diverse suburb, located between the city’s busy harbour and the city centre, were systematically removed to far-flung racially segregated townships as part of the apartheid state’s project of “separate development”.

South End’s houses, shops, streets and social spaces were demolished, replaced with highway overpasses and gated townhouse complexes.

Yusuf Agherdien was a teenager when the Agherdiens were moved from the house that had been the family home for three generations, to the newly constructed “Northern Areas”, which had been designated as the city’s “coloured” group area.

For Double Vision, he has used a set of photographs taken by the late artist Ron Belling on the cusp of South End’s demolition in 1970, to trace the original photographer’s footsteps, drawing on a near-photographic visual and embodied memory of the neighbourhood.

This entails a process of careful deduction, using traces such as edges of pavement kerbs or barely visible foundations of demolished buildings to retrace the erased landscape. At times, the process of erasure and reconstruction has rendered original viewpoints inaccessible, blocked off by new highways, gated residential complexes or parking lots.

These double photographs reflect Agherdien’s process of recovery, using remnants, ruins and traces to reconstruct a disappeared landscape of memory; simultaneously, they are documents of loss, revealing a ghostly landscape that would otherwise remain invisible.

The “double vision” of the exhibition reflects not only on this specific geographic and historical context, but also on the nature of cities as places of erasure, forgetting, and re-inscription, and the ways in which personal biography and memory remain deeply embedded in the urban landscape long after the advent of “redevelopment” and “reconstruction”.

Images: Yusuf Agherdien and Ron Belling.