Creative interventions into photographs from a family album make up this contribution by Namibian artist Isabel Katjavivi. These artworks were part of the exhibition ‘Finding Memories: an everyday archive of Independence’ which took place online in February 2021. This exhibition was an activation within the Everyday Archive of Independence, which is a digital space for the everyday, family photos and personal memories. Official narratives and photo-journalism from this time in Namibian history often focused on capturing the pain and suffering of this era. While these narratives play an important role in helping us remember the past they also tell only part of the story.
Family photo albums are usually ways to recall and remember faces and places. Mixed media artist Isabel Katjavivi has traced, blacked out and carved into these photos, rendering the people in them anonymous. Photographed again, against sand, the images link to Katjavivi’s broader creative process, where she works with the earth as a site of witness to the historical violence inflicted on Namibians by oppressive regimes. The grand-narratives of state sanctioned history tend to erase all but the most prominent figures from the story. Here Katjavivi makes this tendency visible, while also highlighting the personal items that surround the silhouettes, subverting their erasure.
The four images Katjavivi chose to work with all feature the same drawing by Álvaro Cunhal (Portuguese communist revolutionary and politician) who gifted the artwork to the Katjavivi family around the time of Angolan independence from Portuguese colonial rule (1975). Objects like this one are a continuous reminder of the interconnected histories of liberation in Southern Africa.