In the early 1990s Dutch photographer Ad van Denderen and journalist Margalith Kleijwegt travelled to Welkom, a small mining town in South Africa, to document the last days of apartheid. The growing tensions between the white and the black community often lead to unrest. The city was seen as an example of how things could go wrong during the process of change. After multiple visits, the story was published in Vrij Nederland magazine and in the critically acclaimed photo book Welkom in Suid-Afrika in 1991.
25 years later, the South African photographer Lebohang Tlali reached out to van Denderen with a remarkable request. Tlali grew up in Welkom’s neighbouring township Thabong, and discovered Welkom in Suid-Afrika while studying in Cape Town. The book was a revelation to him: for the first time Tlali could see how the white community lived during apartheid. At the same time, the photos taken in Thabong provided a feeling of recognition. In his email to van Denderen, Tlali wrote: ‘These photos were taken during a critical period in the history of South Africa. I was only twelve at the time, and there was a lot of uncertainty. I am repeatedly drawn to your book, which somehow still reflects today’s reality of Welkom and South Africa.’ Tlali had a clear goal in mind: he wanted to take van Denderen’s photographs back to where they were taken – and never seen before.
To think about the future, one must know the past. Taking this notion as a starting point, Tlali, van Denderen, and Paradox initiated Welkom Today: a multivocal photography project that will be launched in the spring of 2019. Tlali’s dream to bring the photographs back to Welkom’s community was realised in the fall of 2017. During that time, Tlali and van Denderen gave a series of photography workshops at three high schools in Welkom and Thabong. Using photography to reflect on their identity, the young ‘born free’ students became empowered participants in the project. The collaborative outcome will be part of a book, a travelling exhibition, and an educational programme that colour the post-apartheid period from inside out.
Welkom Today combines old and new photographs by van Denderen, Tlali and their students, images from family albums and newspaper archives, as well as stories by by Kleijwegt. In a self-reflexive, non-hierarchical way, the project opens up to multiple histories and perspectives, across different generations and backgrounds.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, CBK Zuidoost/Kwaku Summer Festival
Ad van Denderen is one of the key Dutch photographers in the collection of the Stedelijk. Since the 1980s the museum has acquired photographs from several of his series, including Welkom in Suid-Afrika.
Van Denderen’s work belongs to the tradition of critical documentary photography. His self-reflexive position represents a significant development in the contemporary arts. In the postcolonial era more and more artists started to question their position as image-makers. The issue of representation in photography, in this case addressed by Lebohang Tlali, is one of the main themes in the exhibition at the Stedelijk.
A great deal of emphasis will be on the meeting and the collaboration between Van Denderen and Tlali, and their artistic view on the project. The show opens with a selection of black-and-white photographs by Van Denderen from the 1990s, which Tlali brought back to Welkom in 2017. They will appear on a billboard similar to the makeshift model that was used in front of the town hall in Welkom, October 2017. This symbolic act forms the starting point of the exhibition. The original book from 1991 will be reproduced in the form of wallpaper, revealing the socio-political changes and major shift in artistic approach.
In conjunction with the educational programme, Paradox and CBK Zuidoost will organize an outdoor exhibition in the Bijlmer district in the summer of 2019. The focus of this presentation will be on current issues such as segregation, inclusivity and belonging in today’s society. Whereas the Stedelijk show concentrates on the artistic development of Tlali and Van Denderen, the outdoor exhibition starts from the viewpoint of young adolescents.
The exhibition in the Bijlmer will be activated by a public programme, with photo sessions, talks, performances and a great deal of room for debate. At Kwaku, a shipping container would serve as a portrait studio to connect festival visitors to the project. Workshop participants will be actively involved in developing the activities and will act as photographers at the festival.
Welkom Today is characterized by a multitude of voices, perspectives and image sources. The book narrates the story of Welkom and Thabong’s communities, against the backdrop of South Africa’s socio-political history and current reality.
Another thread is the critical assessment made by Lebohang Tlali and the artistic development of Ad van Denderen, which signals a fundamental change in documentary photography: instead of speaking about or on behalf of a subject, more and more contemporary photographers focus on speaking with the community they portray. To bring about these different layers and meanings of the project, the book includes eight chapters about young inhabitants and their families (written by Margalith Kleijwegt) and seven thematic chapters. These two types of chapters will be visually distinct. Each type offers a different reading and feel.
Welkom Today will be co-published with the renowned publishing house of Atlas Contact and launched in May 2019, coinciding with the premiere of the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the leading museum for modern and contemporary art in the Netherlands.
The English edition of Welkom Today will be published by Kehrer Verlag.
Workshops at schools in Welkom and in Amsterdam
In the fall of 2017 Ad van Denderen, Lebohang Tlali and Paradox organised a series of workshops at three very different high schools: Teto High in the township of Thabong; Welkom Gimnasium, a former white school, now seventy percent black; and Goudveld Hoër, an Afrikaner school, predominantly white.
The workshop program was not merely intended to be educational. It also played a pivotal role in the production of the content of Welkom Today. In the workshops the young people represented themselves, offering a valuable insight into their personal lives, experiences and viewpoints. It also opened the doors to their family albums and oral histories, thus preserving and contributing to the cultural heritage of a poorly documented community.
Photography was used as a tool to stimulate social awareness, to learn about yourself by documenting your daily surroundings, and to imagine your future by visualising your hopes and dreams. Photography broadend the students’ horizons and led to new encounters and exchanges. ‘I used to be ashamed of the township of Thabong. This mess everywhere. But when I walk around with my camera, I see a certain beauty in it. I even feel proud’. More than a year after the workshops, some students are still active photographers, sharing their images on Instagram.
Based on the 2017 Welkom/Thabong programme, Paradox launches a new series of workshops at two schools in Amsterdam in 2019, in collaboration with partners Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and CBK Zuidoost.
The programme’s theme is ‘separate worlds’, bringing the subject matter of Welkom Today close to home. Even though the situation in the Netherlands is incomparable to South Africa’s apartheid history and current reality, communities tend to drift apart in today’s Amsterdam. This workshop programme tries to bring together a few of those worlds: the city districts Zuid and Zuidoost that each have their own demographic, atmosphere and identity.
The Welkom Today workshops in April and May enables the inclusion of the outcome in a free newspaper and an outdoor exhibition in Zuidoost. In doing so, Welkom Today brings together different generations and lived experiences, from the past and present, here and there.
Welkom Today team one month in South Africa
Weekly blogs by journalist Margalith Kleijwegt30 October 2017
During the second trip to Welkom, journalist Margalith Kleijwegt keeps a blog for the Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer. Margalith joined Ad van Denderen in 1990 to carry out Ad’s photo project Welkom in Suid-Afrika. Now, 27 years later, she writes about her experiences of Welkom anno 2017. Read the blogs below (in Dutch): 9 October 2017: Waar exposeer...Read more
Students from Welkom photograph their lives
Another step in the Welkom Today project7 November 2017
For the photo project Welkom Today, photographers Ad van Denderen and Lebohang Tlali and team travelled back to Welkom. For six weeks, they set up an exhibition with earlier photos of the town by Ad and lead several photography workshops for students to inspire them to express themselves visually. The trip brought to life a historical and contemporary view on Welkom.Read more
Interview with Lebo Tlali on Welkom Today5 December 2017
Lebo Tlali is one of the initiators of Welkom Today, a multivocal photography project about the South African town Welkom. Together with Dutch photographer Ad van Denderen, he is carrying out this project for the upcoming years. The latest steps in the project were a pop-up exhibition with work by Ad and several photography workshops with students of...Read more
Welkom Today opens 18 May at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam14 February 2019
In the early 1990s the Dutch photographer Ad van Denderen and journalist Margalith Kleijwegt travelled to Welkom, a small mining town in South Africa, to document the last days of apartheid. An email by South African photographer Lebohang Tlali, 25 years later, was the start of the multivocal project Welkom Today. The exhibition in Stedelijk...Read more
In the media
Terug naar Welkom
During the second trip to Welkom, journalist Margalith Kleijwegt kept a blog for the Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer. Margalith joined Ad van Denderen in 1990 to carry out Ad’s photo project Welkom in Suid-Afrika. She wrote about her experiences of Welkom anno 2017 in a blog (in Dutch).Read more »
Hoe een Nederlandse fotograaf Zuid-Afrikaanse kinderen wil leren over de apartheid
How a Dutch photographer wants to teach South-African children about apartheidRead more »
Photography project invests in leaners
Terug naar Welkom: 'Wij kennen elkaar niet.'
Back to Welkom: 'We don't know eachother.'Read more »