STEVENSON is pleased to present Guy Tillim's Museum of the Revolution. The photographs in this project, which has won him the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award for 2017, were made on long walks through the streets of African capitals including Johannesburg, Durban, Maputo, Beira, Harare, Nairobi, Kigali, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Luanda, Libreville, Accra, Dakar and Dar es Salaam over the past four years.
The series takes its title from the Museum of the Revolution in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, on the Avenida 24 Julho. The avenue was named soon after the establishment of Lourenço Marques as the Portuguese colonial capital. The 24th of July 1875 marked the end of a Luso-British conflict for possession of the territory that was decided in favour of Portugal.
One hundred years later the name of the avenue remained the same, but its meaning changed. Mozambique’s independence from Portugal was proclaimed in June 1975; the capital was renamed Maputo, and now the 24th of July is Nationalisation Day, celebrating the transfer of ownership of all Portuguese property and buildings to the state. A 13-year civil war followed, ending in 1990; the People’s Republic of Mozambique became the Republic of Mozambique and a new economic era began.
In the Museum of the Revolution there is a panoramic painting produced by North Korean artists depicting the liberation of the capital from Portuguese colonial rule. It illustrates the rhetoric of a revolution as the leader and followers parade through the streets and avenues, laid out with grandeur by the colonial powers. These streets, named and renamed, function as silent witnesses to the ebb and flow of political, economic and social shifts of power and become a museum of the many revolutions that have taken place in African countries over the past 65 years.
When Tillim began photographing in the 1980s, the streets of these African capitals reflected the economic stagnation wrought by socialist policies that usually accompanied African nationalism. They reflect a different reality now, of rebuilding and enterprise, and new sets of aspirations imbued with capitalistic values.
At the same time as witnessing these shifts, Museum of the Revolution extends Tillim’s interest in notions of judgment in image-making, which he has explored in his series Second Nature (2012) and Joburg: Points of View (2014). The viewer is not offered a conventional point of focus or easily identifiable subject; instead, the paradox of photographing nothing yet everything, and observing the resultant conflation of subject and object, becomes the premise for his photography. Unable to contain the infinite impulses of any particular scene, and thus prompted to ask himself who he is in this city, these streets, Tillim’s journey is to make images that attempt to be without pointed judgment; that are more like windows than mirrors, and where the frame is an invitation to explore rather than state a claim.
The exhibition opens on Thursday 12 October, 6 to 8pm.
Tillim will give a walkabout of his exhibition in aid of the Friends of the South African National Gallery on Friday 13 October at 11am. Cost is R80 for members of the Friends, R100 for non-members; students free.