Writhing in Apathy

“More and more he is convinced that English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa.”—J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace.

South Africa in Apartheid and After, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is a photographic investigation of the troubled country by three photographers: David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, and Billy Monk. All native South Africans, each brings a very different perspective on his homeland.

The exhibition opens with photographs from Goldblatt’s 1982 project In Boksburg, a group of portraits of day-to-day life in a middle-class, predominantly white suburb of Boksburg, near Johannesburg, shot between 1970 and 1980. Goldblatt’s photographs are riveting as a catalogue of the accouterments of suburban living and the globalization of its milquetoast aesthetic: tract housing, OCD lawn care, concrete fences. Pervading his images is the sense of willful escapism that the suburbs can impart and are even designed to do. Perhaps this…

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