Africa Photos at the Met

This coarse, grassy landscape appears at first glance to be empty, yet the billboard declaring "Terreno Ocupado" – Portuguese for "occupied land" – reveals this site in Luanda as both active and politically charged.Stretches of bare ground in and around Luanda form the backdrop to ghostly signs of economic activity. Conflict between Luanda’s population and its governing elites forms an undercurrent to this photograph of a young woman carrying a baby across litter-strewn ground, observed by a man wearing a military beret. This monument to Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto was erected in 2001-2 as a gift from North Korea. This photograph contrasts the heroic figure symbolizing freedom from colonialism with the everyday heroism of a man pushing a heavy lawnmower.An assemblage of objects perches on a stony outcrop, surrounded by desert. The long pole protruding from the pile is topped with a ragged banner, announcing the presence of this unusual memorial, but giving little away about its exact significanceThe metal detector in the “deminer’s” hand casts a sinister circular shadow on the ground at his feet, hinting at the landmines that may be concealed all around him. TheThe abandoned mining town of Pomfret, South Africa was converted into a military base for an elite Special Forces unit of Angolan soldiers. For the veterans whose paths ended here, Pomfret was "the final displacement."

Photographs of Angola and South Africa by Carnegie Corporation grantee Jo Ractliffe at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

South African photographer Jo Ractliffe is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Arts in the School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Throughout her career she has directed her camera toward landscapes to address themes of displacement, conflict, history, memory, and erasure.  An exhibit at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art features a selection of works from Ractliffe’s haunting series on the war in Angola,  As  Terras do Fim do Mundo (The Lands of the End of the World), which was supported by Carnegie Corporation. While working on this series, Ractliffe traveled alongside ex-soldiers returning to the desolate places in the Angolan countryside where they had fought.

Ractliffe, whose work has been described as pushing new creative boundaries, is one of scores of black and female academics at Witswatersrand (Wits) who received grants from Carnegie Corporation to pursue their research interests.  She was awarded $30,000 as part of an equity and transformation grant aimed at changing the University’s culture so that all scholars and all perspectives would be embraced. 

The exhibit also includes works from Ractliffe’s earlier series, Terreno Ocupado, produced during her first visit to Angola's capital, Luanda, five years after the end of the Civil War, and a later series, The Borderlands, which examines the impact of the wars in Angola within South Africa's borders. The photographs in all three series were originally produced as either gelatin silver prints or archival pigment prints on cotton paper; the inkjet prints on display at the Met were made by the artist especially for the exhibition.

The Aftermath of Conflict: Jo Ractliffe's Photographs of Angola and South Africa continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until March 6, 2016.