Usakos - Photographs Beyond Ruins: The Old Location Albums, 1920s to 1960s

Key information

10:30 am to 5:00 pm
Brunei Gallery
Lower Gallery
Event type

About this event

Usakos — Photographs Beyond Ruins: The Old Location Albums, 1920s to 1960s is an exhibition that centres on three private collections of historical photographs preserved and curated by four female residents (Cecilie //Geises, Wilhelmine Katjimune, Gisela Pieters and Olga //Garoës) in the small central Namibian town called Usakos. With a view to reflect the resonances of these personal archives, Paul Grendon’s contemporary photographs enter a visual dialogue with the women’s collections, thereby providing a particular opening into the present and future. The exhibition on display is a travelling version of an exhibition on permanent display in Usakos.

Usakos, a railway town: Usakos developed as one of the main hubs of first the German colonial and later the South African railway system, and its urban morphology was marked, from its early beginnings, by the policies of segregation and apartheid urban planning. The exhibition highlights a particularly traumatic moment in the town’s history, when in the early 1960s the apartheid administration began to remove African residents out of what was then called the old location into newly built townships that were geographically removed from those parts of the town henceforth reserved for “whites.”

The collectors and the collections: The photographic collections kept by the four women lay out the physical and social landscapes of the old location. Most images were taken by local or itinerant African photographers, and they evidence a vibrant aesthetic and visual culture in a cosmopolitan environment that made a stand against the constraints and constrictions imposed by the politics of race. The four women and their photographic archives are part of a trans-generational network and practice of collecting and curating. The women’s care for the photographs is an expression of how these small but continuous daily aesthetic acts powerfully countered the ruination of their living environments.

Contemporary photography: The resonances of the old location photographic collections in the past, present and future are taken up by Paul Grendon in his desire to retrace the layers of Usakos’ experience of colonialism and apartheid that remain visible in the physical and social landscape of the town.

The Exhibition Content & Catalogue: The exhibition consists of enlarged black & white photographs selected from the women’s collections and Grendon’s contemporary colour photographs. Additionally there are information panels and two large maps. The exhibition is a copy of the exhibition on permanent display in Usakos and was previously on show in Paris, Basel, Bielefeld and Minnesota. Another travelling version is touring Southern Africa with venues in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Maputo and eventually Windhoek and other Namibian destinations. Notable is the substantial involvement of students in the exhibition project. Based on a co-operation between the University of Basel, Switzerland, and the University of Namibia, students of both universities participated in the mounting and displaying of the exhibition and did further research which has since been included. An accompanying catalogue (Basler Afrika Biblographien, 2015) features an essay on photography and an essay on Usakos’s urban history, three image sections with black & white images introducing the women collectors and their collections of historical photographs, and one section with Paul Grendon’s contemporary colour photographs.


Paul Grendon (Photographer, Cape Town), Giorgio Miescher (University of Basel), Lorena Rizzo (University of Bielefeld and Harvard University) and Tina Smith (District Six Museum, Cape Town)

Project Partners and Funders

Carl Schlettwein Stiftung, Basel; Centre for African Studies, University of Basel; District Six Museum, Cape Town; Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft, Basel; Max Geldner Stiftung, Basel; Museums Association of Namibia; Stiftung Mercator Schweiz; Swiss Arts Council & Pro Helvetia; University of Namibia; Usakos Museum, Namibia.

Sample Images