With the collapse of apartheid under the weight of international sanctions and the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, South Africa stood poised on the cusp of a new era of promise and possibility.
But over the past three decades, systemic racism has continued to plague the nation of 62 million, just under eight in ten of whom are Black. High unemployment, poverty, and crime rates coupled with government corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and failing public enterprise has pushed the nation to the brink of collapse.
It is within this context that the “Ama2000s” (South Africans born just before or after the year 2000) stake their place, refashioning the landscape of art, music, and fashion in their own image. Unbeholden to conventional thought, they create the world as their own, confronting and transcending the turbulent histories of the past to reimagine a new future by adopting a collective approach.
For the 2023 edition of “Human Stories,” curator Kaia Charles envisions A Young South Africa, bringing together six emerging photographers documenting their homeland through a decidedly 21st century lens. The show features newly commissioned works by Bee Diamondhead, Fede Kortez, Aart Verrips, Nikki Zakkas, Anita Hlazo, Ben Moyo, and Karabo Mooki that respond to the present moment through a panoramic array of perspectives.
Half a century after the 1976 Soweto student uprisings, which paved the way for a global anti-apartheid movement, Charles sees South Africa once again entering into a period of foundational change. “This generation, are driving cultural change by using the digital space as a form of political articulation to speak out against injustice,” she says. “They are setting out a new trajectory that can be perceived to be antiestablishment.”
A Young South Africa presents an expansive look at Ama2000s forging their own path. Karabo Mooki’s groundbreaking series, Island Gals, documents a tight knit crew of Black women remaking the skateboarding scene in Johannesburg and Soweto on their own terms, while Fede Kortez's Cape Town Vibes chronicles the Muslim communities in the Bo-Kaap and Woodstock neighbourhoods in Cape Town.
With the global success of Amapiano, Charles decided the time had come to hone in on the visionaries who are cultivating a renewed sense of freedom against the odds. Despite the limitations they face, the artists transcend circumstance by tapping into the transformative power of creativity, connection, and collaboration. In their hands, art becomes a communal activity where everyone has a role to place: photographers, stylists, set designers, and set builders commune as one, working with their contemporaries across the arts to spark new iterations of culture for the 21st century.
“The exhibition celebrates the reliance of youth, and their ability to craft images that reframe and debunk rigid social constructs,” Charles says. “I view the work as an act of soft, subtle activism strongly contextualised by the cities and townships that these artists inhabit to create a multilayered visual language. The work has not been made by one hand but many.”