PEM PRESENTS POIGNANT WORKS OF BEAUTY AND CONFLICT
IN U.S. DEBUT EXHIBITION OF SOUTH AFRICAN PHOTOGRAPHER JO RACTLIFFE
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents nearly 50 works from Jo Ractliffe’s four-year quest to photograph Angola in the aftermath of its civil war. The Angolan Civil War was one of the longest and bloodiest in African history. With South Africa and the United States backing one side and Cuba and the Soviet Union supporting the other, the war lasted from 1975 to 2002 and cost the lives of some 1.5 million people while displacing 4 million others. In 2007, long after the war correspondents and photojournalists had left the country, Ractliffe made her first trips to the capital city, Luanda. Images of Angola’s post-war markets, monuments and makeshift communities are on view in Someone Else’s Country, Photographs by Jo Ractliffe beginning October 11, 2014.
The artist traveled with veterans who were returning to battle sites in the southern part of the country. The exhibition title is drawn from a South African colonel who observed, “If you’re going to have a war, best to do it in someone else’s country.” As a South African, Ractliffe recalls how in the 1970s and early 1980s, most of her contemporaries viewed Angola abstractly as “the border,” a secret, unspoken location where brothers and boyfriends were sent as part of their military service. The unsettling tales that filtered back starkly contrasted the sanitized narrative put forward by the South African government.
As an outsider — connected to, yet unfamiliar with this landscape — Ractliffe patiently uses her camera to document battle scars, fading signs of colonial histories and the aftermath of Cold War ideologies that fueled Angola’s violence.
Trevor Smith, PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense, notes: “Ractliffe’s photographs can be spare but they are never empty. Each image can be understood as her attempt to orient herself in what she calls ‘a landscape of leftovers.’ Reverberating with loss and disorientation, her photographs also hint at how life moves forward after trauma.”
Ractliffe’s close looking allows us to understand things that may not be initially visible. She has said, “I feel as if I am in a place that has abandoned itself, is indifferent to the collapsing of time and history. Sometimes these remains are so actively present, their event so precisely articulated, that it feels as if the moment has only just passed.”
Jo Ractliffe was born in 1961 in Cape Town and lives in Johannesburg. In 2010 she was a Writing Fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), Johannesburg, and an invited artist at Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire. Ractliffe was nominated for the 2011 Discovery Prize at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival and her work As Terras do Fim do Mundo was nominated as best photobook of 2010 at the International Photobook Festival.
Jo Ractliffe. Man maintaining the lawn of the Monumento de Agostinho Neto, 2007. From the ‘Terreno Ocupado’ series. © Jo Ractliffe. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
High-resolution publicity images available for download at the following link: http://goo.gl/CNf2Ak
Support provided by the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2014 | 7 – 9 pm
Please join us for an evening celebration of PEM’s newest contemporary art exhibitions,Someone Else’s Country, Photographs by Jo RactliffeandThe Woods. RSVP to Caryn Boehm by October 2 at email@example.com or 978-542-1646.
ABOUT THE PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of the oldest and fastest growing museums in North America. At its heart is a mission to transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections and the vital importance of creative expression. Founded in 1799, the museum’s collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time –– including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, as well as Native American, Oceanic and African art. PEM’s campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities, performance spaces and historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese House, a 200‐year‐old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am–5 pm and the third Thursday of every month until 9 pm. Closed Mondays (except holidays), Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. ADMISSION: Adults $18; seniors $15; students $10. Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 17 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang. INFO: Call 866‐745‐1876 or visit pem.org