Hariban Award 2023, Honourable Mention

Through Monuments (Namibia)

Post-colonial Southern Africa is a place that enacts a continuous tension between its architectural constructions, its natural surroundings and the weight of racist historical ideologies. Through memorials, monuments, sites of cultural significance and other commemorative topologies, these photographs ruminate on these tensions within a contemporary Namibian context. Where in the drylands of this sparsely populated region, heritage sites are rendered indistinct by the shifting tides of dust and sandstorms.

Forming a subset within the broader Through Monuments project (2019-ongoing), which expands to include the entangled histories of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, the work explores how collective memory is expressed through overlapping material cultures. This chapter focuses on the railway lines that serviced diamond mining towns and military outposts, together with the area known as the Skeleton Coast, where shipwrecks, defunct oil rigs and other ruins lie strewn across the Namib Desert.

Sculptural interventions aim to disrupt a traditional narrative-based reading. Improvised and playful, these assemblages are simple exercises where found artefacts are underpropped, leaned against or hung. They evolved from the notion that memorialised heritage is undergoing a process of being redressed and transformed. Though humble on the surface, these artefacts are as inextricably linked to the material culture of European extractivism in Africa as any building or structure. Perhaps as the importance of intangible heritage and oral histories challenge the role of monuments, it allows for physical structures and objects to undergo a process of being questioned, where material properties and design are potential subjects for artistic re-interpretation.

In the words of James Baldwin, "As we consider what role monuments play in our culture, it's the historical context, not the mythology, that we must remember." In that spirit, Through Monuments is not grouped following any chronological narrative. Instead, the photographs are sequenced according to the aesthetics of built form, material texture and decorative motif. Thereby encouraging the reading of monuments - not in terms of the events or personalities they purport to represent - but rather as a set of languages that reflect the context from which they emerged.

Presented by Benrido, the Hariban Award combines a 170-year-old analogue technique with contemporary photography. Glass plates have been used as the base for collotype printing plates which still continues today. The award is called “Hariban” as “Hari” means glass plate, and “ban” means printing plate in Japanese.

2023 Jury: Nestan Nijaradze, Rei Masuda, Awoiska van der Molan, Sarah Greene 
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