Flashback, an exhibition of photographs by Tony Figueira
Defiance, 1990 (printed 2014)
SA Out Now!, 1989 (printed c. 2014)
For years during the turbulent pre-independent time of the 80s, and early years of Namibian independence, Tony Figueira documented the struggle for liberation and built a large photographic archive. From trade union rallies to the return of Namibia’s Founding President, Dr. Sam Nujoma, these early photographs mark the beginning of a career that captured the ongoing journey of Namibia and her people over the next 27 years.
A Younger Dr Nujoma 1989 (printed c. 2014)
Jubilant, 1990 (printed c. 2014)
Namibia will be free, 1990 (printed c. 2014)
Celebrating the return, 1989 (printed c. 2016)
Workers Unite!, 1989 (printed c. 2014)
21 March 2020 marks the thirtieth birthday of Namibia’s independence from South Africa. Through showcasing some of Figueira’s historical and more contemporary photographs, this exhibition provides a glimpse into the past and demands a moment of reflection.
Untitled (Kids), Undated (printed c. 2014)
As with any historic photography collection these images are fascinating because they create a time capsule. Recognisable figures like Sam Nujoma stand young and tall and we are reminded that it was their youth that fueled the fires of resistance. We are left to ponder over what happened to the other, lesser known individuals. How did independence affect their lives? The jubilance of independence and the hardships endured by the Namibian people under apartheid are all starkly visible in the images on display. Unfortunately much of this hardship continues into the current era and we are forced to ask why this is the case.
A Younger Dr Geingob, Undated (printed c. 2014)
On the move, undated (printed c. 2014)
Celebration & Concern, 1990 (printed c. 2014)
WIKA, Undated (printed c. 2014)
In even the harshest times Figueira had an eye for whimsy. School desks, piled on top of one another, make for an exciting jumble that does more than hint at a painful dysfunctionality. Further back in time, in photographs of protest we see the mechanisms of play at work. With dancing, running and the raising of voices, Namibians took to the streets, risking their lives for a hard won freedom.
Untitled (School Desks), Undated (printed c. 2014)
SWAPO Rally (Double Exposure), Undated (printed c. 2014)
SWAPO Rally, 1989 (printed c. 2016)
These pictures show how play can also function as a form of protest. In these images, young Namibians demand the space to play, and the active use of that space to display acts of freedom that are so often denied by long histories of economic and political repression. Figueira’s works provide us with important juxtapositions which remind us that the freedom to play is often reserved for only the most privileged members of society. At a festival we see white bodies exercising this freedom, in moments of joy and celebration. In the context of these images we are reminded that these freedoms are still not accessible to everyone.
The Youth (i), 1989 (printed c. 2014)
The Youth (ii), Undated (printed c. 2014)
By focusing on these playful moments Figueira has rejected the notion that it is only through images of abjection and poverty that we can come to understand adversity and pain. A thirtieth birthday is surely a time for celebration, just as much as it is a time to reinvigorate and rekindle the spirit of protest.
Unveiling (Nelson Mandela), 1993 (printed c. 2014)
Angola Votes, c. 1992 (printed c. 2014)
Untitled (youngster) , Undated (printed c. 2014)
More about this exhibition
With the decision to change this into an online only exhibtion (covid-19 has hit Namibia and it seemed wise to get on board with flattening the curve right away!) we decided to create a little more content than usual. The clips bellow feature StArt curator Gina Figueira as she talks us through the exhibtion. It was originally planned that the exhibition would open at The Project Room (20/03/2020) and we are very grateful to Frieda Lühl for her continued collaboration.