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Jason Baird Jackson
Director, Mathers Museum

Judy Kirk
Assistant director, Mathers Museum

Last modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013

IU professor curates apartheid-era photo exhibition for display in Bloomington and South Africa

Aug. 21, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A fall exhibition featuring rarely seen images shot by famed Life magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White will open Sept. 6 at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.


As apartheid planners removed African residents from central Johannesburg, they relocated them to bleak shantytowns on the fringes of the city. There is a striking similarity between the composition of this photograph and another by Bourke-White, taken when she accompanied Patton's Third Army to Buchenwald during the concentration camp's liberation. Credit: Margaret Bourke-White/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Print-Quality Photo

The exhibition will remain on display on the Indiana University Bloomington campus through December. Then, in 2014, it will travel to the Bensusan Museum of Photography, Museum Africa, in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the Michaelis Galleries at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa.

Indiana University associate professor of history Alex Lichtenstein curated the exhibition, including securing limited publication rights from Getty Images to display some never-before-seen photographs Bourke-White took during a visit to South Africa in 1950, as well as researching and writing supporting documentation for the exhibition and a companion website.

"In the past 10 years, I've grown increasingly interested in the connections between South African and American history," Lichtenstein said. "Bourke-White traveled to South Africa and documented what it was like there just as apartheid was emerging, while at the same time in America segregation was moving in the opposite direction; it's just a really interesting moment between these two countries."

An opening reception for the exhibition is planned from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, at the museum, where Lichtenstein will speak on his work in South Africa. He will be joined by South African photographer Cedric Nunn, who will speak on contemporary photography in South Africa, and Dudu Madonsela, who is head curator at the Johannesburg-based Bensusan Museum of Photography at Museum Africa, where the exhibition will be displayed next year.

IU Cinema will also present a free film series titled "South Africa: Apartheid and After" in conjunction with the exhibition. The three films offer a range of visual and narrative treatments of the problems of political repression, racial discrimination, the peculiarities of life under apartheid and the persistent links between the U.S. and South Africa.

Films are:

  • 7 p.m. Oct. 22, "Cry, the Beloved Country" -- Based on Alan Paton's novel illustrating racial division on South Africa, this film was shot on location during the first years of apartheid.
  • 7 p.m. Nov. 2, "Come Back, Africa" -- Shot clandestinely, this film is one of the most famous, yet rarely seen, visual records of black urban life under apartheid.
  • 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10, "Searching for Sugar Man" -- An Oscar-winning documentary that chronicles the life of a Detroit singer whose socially engaged music became a huge hit in apartheid South Africa.

An accompanying symposium titled "Documentary Photography and the South African Experience" will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 31 at the museum. It is free and open to the public.

The symposium will bring together Santu Mofokeng, a major contemporary South African photographer; John Edwin Mason, a historian of South African and U.S. photography at the University of Virginia; and Claude Cookman from the IU School of Journalism, who has written about Bourke-White. They will discuss Bourke-White, South Africa, photojournalism and their transnational intersections with Life magazine. Beth Buggenhagen, associate professor of anthropology at Indiana University and faculty research curator at the Mathers, will chair the symposium.

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures has also obtained a grant to cover transportation costs for schools to bring classes to the exhibition. Tours can be reserved by contacting education curator Sarah Hatcher at or 812-855-0197. A curriculum guide is also available for teachers to use to support class visits or provide in-class learning activities.

"Photos in Black and White: Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid in South Africa" is supported by a Mellon Innovating International Research, Teaching and Collaboration grant, a program of the Office of the Provost funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Indiana University. It is also supported by a New Frontiers grant, a program of the Office of the Vice President for Research funded by the Office of the President. Additional support for the exhibition was provided by the African Studies Program at Indiana University Bloomington.

Programming support comes from IU's Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Journalism, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Indiana University Art Museum, the IU Cinema, the Department of American Studies, the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and the Department of History.