The exhibition interweaves diverse perspectives, generations and histories. From old and new photos by Van Denderen, Tlali and students to family albums, newspaper archives and interviews by Margalith Kleijwegt. Compelling sequel to the highly praised photo book Welkom in Suid-Afrika of 1991
The exhibition Welkom Today, by Ad van Denderen (1943, The Netherlands) and Lebohang Tlali (1978, South Africa) goes on show at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam on 18 May. 25 years after Nelson Mandela was elected president, Van Denderen and Tlali present a critical sequel to the highly-praised photo book Welkom in Suid-Afrika (1991) in which van Denderen chronicled apartheid’s final days in the gold mining town of Welkom. Welkom Today combines old and new photos by Van Denderen and Tlali with photos taken by students, family albums, newspaper archives and stories by writer Margalith Kleijwegt. The exhibition is part of a multi-part photography project, produced by Paradox, the platform for documentary projects.
It isn’t just Welkom that has changed since the abolition of apartheid, I’ve changed, too. 27 years later, I see the town very differently. Instead of zooming in, as I did then, I now look for less confrontational, more nuanced images.
(Ad van Denderen)
Welkom Today begins with an e-mail from Lebohang Tlali to Ad van Denderen. Tlali grew up in the township Thabong, close to Welkom, and discovered the book Welkom in Suid-Afrika when he was studying in Cape Town. For Tlali, it was an eye opener—for the first time, he was able to see how communities on both sides of the conflict had lived during apartheid. And yet he also felt that the photos of Thabong were strangely familiar. In his email to Van Denderen, Tlali wrote: “These photos were taken at a crucial stage of South Africa’s history. I was only twelve at the time, and there was a lot of uncertainty. I am continually drawn to your book which somehow still reflects the reality of Welkom and South Africa today.” That email exchange was the beginning of an extraordinary collaboration between Tlali and Van Denderen.
Welkom Today contrasts the photo-journalism of Welkom in Suid-Afrika (1991) with multiple stories and perspectives, from official newspaper versions of events, to the intimate narratives gathered together from family albums.
Welkom Today is based on the idea that every form of photography can tell a different story. The new and historic images of Van Denderen and Tlali are presented side by side, interwoven with archival footage and photos taken by pupils from Welkom and Thabong.
Bringing together photography, video and text, the exhibition provides a fresh, vivid overview of this contentious era. The eight family narratives in the book, told from the perspective of the younger ‘born free’ generation, offer unprecedented insights into South Africa’s fraught history. But the exhibition doesn’t simply look back—it also looks to the future. One of the video installations presents the growing photo archive of the students, who still keep in touch through a WhatsApp group. Welkom Today is about different voices and perspectives, about changing the way you see things, and attempts to bring separate worlds a little closer together.