The exhibition Names in Uphill Letters is currently on at Benoni Museum, after which it will come to Workers’ Library in Newtown before moving to Pretoria Art Museum in Pretoria in May , 2022.
By CityLife Arts Writer
There is currently a travelling exhibition, which at the moment is on at Benoni Museum in Ekurhuleni which calls for an audience simply because it is an exciting exhibition that features big names in South African society captured ober the years by freelance photographer Jacob Mawela.
The travelling exhibition will, from the City of Ekurhuleni’s Benoni Museum, then move on to the City of Johannesburg’s Workers Museum for a March 27, 2022 opening and thereafter proceed on to the City of Tshwane’s Pretoria Art Museum for a May 7, 2022 opening (as part of the latter’s Africa Month programme)
Names in Uphill Letters is a historiography of the newsmakers who treaded South Africa’s soil Names in Uphill Letters is a stills show of newsmakers who treaded (and continue doing so) South Africa’s soil, documented by Pimville-based freelance photojournalist and writer, Jacob Mawela. An on-going project, it is a visual historiography encapsulating figures in the country’s history ranging from Mrs Ples (a Hominid fossil presently on display at the Ditsong Museum in Pretoria and believed by scientists to be about 2, 5 million years old, as well as being the distant relative of all humankind), to past and present role-players in the sciences, politics, academia, sports, economics, literature, law, humanities, etc. – and aims to dispense visual literacy as a driver of social cohesion mainly, yet not exclusively, amongst the country’s Millennials.
The photographer’s selection of newsmakers number 108, but owing to financial constraints, he has decided to present the project in four installations, with Part 1 of his presentation entailing 25, A2- size monochromatic images – doubled for the second show to 50 and thereafter increasing to 75 and 108 for the third and final shows, respectively. In an excerpt from his artist statement, Mawela states that the motivation for the project has been the dispensing of visual literacy amongst the country’s Millennials, who he feels have fallen into the trap of the polarisation of the pre-1994 past of their parents’ generation.
Through the privilege of personal access to his subjects, he delved into the personas behind individuals who hogged – and continue hogging – news media headlines. Included amongst his list of subjects are also names not precisely cloaked in glory but as the scholar in him asserts, he didn’t embark on his project as a judge of man, but rather as a roving eye merely fascinated by human nature! Names in Uphill Letters is exclusively documented on Ilford HP5 film, a medium widely utilized within the press industry in the early 90’s when Mawela embarked upon his journalistic career. Presenting the project in a monochromatic prism – he contends – lends it a permanence which straddles across varying epochs! Names in Uphill Letters is a never-seen-before visual presentation which has been made possible by funding from the National Arts Council.
The following names constitute the list of 108 newsmakers to be exhibited in photographic form – with the 27 names highlighted in colour mark, comprising Part I of the project:
1. Mr/Mrs Ples – Hominid fossil declared the precursor of humans discovered by Robert Broom at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
2. Sandra Laing – South African woman classified as Coloured pending Apartheid era although a progeny of three generations of ancestors regarded as White.
3. Frederick Willem “FW” de Klerk – Statesman who oversaw the end of Apartheid
4. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – The first President of a Democratic South Africa
5. Winifred Madikizela-Mandela – Anti-Apartheid Struggle activist
6. Walter and Albertina Sisulu – Anti-Apartheid Struggle activists
7. Cyril Ramaphosa – Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly which wrote the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa
8. Roelf Meyer – CODESA negotiator and co-writer of South Africa’s Constitution.
9. Amina Cachalia – Struggle Activist
10. Helen Suzman – Member of Parliament known for her opposition of Apartheid
11. Professor Fatima Meer – Academic and Activist
12. Dr Mamphela Ramphele – The first South African to head the World Bank
13. Dr Nthato Harrison Motlana – Civil Rights Activist
14. Dennis Vincent Brutus – Sports Activist
15. Navi Pillay – Justice & UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
16. Dr Beyers Naude – Anti-Apartheid Cleric
17. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu – The first Black Archbishop of Cape Town and the Anglican Church. 18. Bishop Engenas Barnabas Lekganyane – Zion Christian Church leader
19. Professor Thamsanqa “Wilkie” Kambule – Mathematician
20. Professor Es’kia Mphahlele – Academic
21. Professor Phillip Valentine Tobias – Paleoanthropologist
22. Professor Tshilidzi Marwala – Artificial Intelligence Scientist & Academic
23. Professor Himla Soodyall – Genetic Anthropologist 24. Dr Adriana Marais – Scientist 25. Salim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim – Epidemiologists & AIDS Researchers 26. Sathasivan “Saths” Cooper – Psychologist & Academic 27. Dr Mamokgethi Phakeng – Mathematician & UCT Vice-Chancellor 28. Advocate Thuli Madonsela – Academic 29. Dr Imtiaz Sooliman – Gift of the Givers Founder and Humanitarian 30. Jill Farrant – Famine Fighter 31. Ludwick Marishane – Inventor [of the DryBath] 32. Herbert Prins – Architect 33. George Bizos SC. – Advocate 34. Raymond Ackerman – Pick n Pay Founder 35. Dr Richard Maponya – Maponya Mall Founder & Entrepreneur 36. Mark Richard Shuttleworth – The First African in Space & Entrepreneur
37. Johann Rupert – Entrepreneur & Philanthropist 38. Breyten Breytenbach – Writer & Artist 39. Nadine Gordimer – South Africa’s 1st Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate 40. James Matthews – Writer & Poet 41. George Pemba – Artist and contemporary of Gerard Sekoto 42. Peter Clarke – Artist/master painter 43. William Joseph Kentridge – South Africa’s pre-eminent artist 44. Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa – Diviner/Sanusi 45. Esther Mahlangu – Artist who gained world-renown by painting a BMW sedan in Ndebele patterns 46. Jonathan Shapiro – Cartoonist 47. Redi Tlhabi – Media practitioner 48. Ferial Haffajee – Journalist
49. Jodi Bieber – 2010 World Press Photo Award for photo of the year recipient 50. Zanele Muholi – Visual Activist LGBTI Campaigner 51. Sam Nzima – Photographer of the 16 June 1976 Hector Peterson image 52. David Goldblatt – Photographer 53. Jurgen Schadeberg – Photographer
54. Peter Magubane – Robert Capa Gold Medal recipient 55. Alf Kumalo – Photographer 56. George Hallett – Photographer who documented exiled South Africans 57. Kammersangerin Mimi Coertse – Opera Singer 58. Miriam Makeba – Singer 59. Dolly Rathebe – Singer 60. Margaret Mcingana – Singer 61. Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya – Musicians 62. Brenda Fassie – Singer
63. Abdullah Ibrahim – Musician/Jazz Pianist 64. Hugh Masekela – Trumpeter/Musician 65. Johnny Clegg – Musician and co-founder of the band, Juluka. 66. Michael “Li’l Bebop” Masote – Music Instructor & Conductor 67. Richard Cock – Conductor 68. Charlize Theron – Best Actress Academy Award recipient
69. Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard – Playwright 70. John Kani – Actor/Playwright 71. Janice Honeyman – Playwright 72. Pieter-Dirk Uys – Satirist, performer and social activist. 73. Gibson Kente – Playwright 74. Nkosinathi Maphumulo a.k.a. Black Coffee – Disc Jock 75. Trevor Noah – Entertainer
76. Dr Raelene Strauss – Miss World 77. Anneline Kriel – Miss World 1974 78. Kitty Phetla – Dancer 79. Cathy O’Dowd – First Female African to summit Mount Everest
80. Saray Khumalo – First Black Female South African to summit Mount Everest 81. Sibusiso Vilane – First Black Male South African to summit Mount Everest 82. Mike Horn – 1st solo circumnavigator of the Equator; first (unassisted) walk to the North Pole and first round the Arctic Circle 83. Kingsley Holgate – Adventurer whose expeditions entail the delivery of humanitarian provisions around the African continent. 84. Jody Scheckter – South Africa’s only Formula 1 Grand Prix World Champion 85. Sarel Daniel van der Merwe – Motor Racing Driving Champion 86. Peter “Terror” Mathebula – South Africa’s first Black Boxing World Champion
87. Gerhardus “Gerrie” Coetzee – South Africa’s first Heavyweight Boxing World Champion 88. Stanley Christodoulou – World-renown boxing referee and judge 89. Rodney Berman – Boxing Promoter 90. Hendrik Egnatius “Naas” Botha – South Africa’s Rugby Icon 91. Robert Graeme Pollock – Cricketer 92. Gary Player [DMS, OIG] – Majors-winning Golfer 93. Jomo Sono – One of South Africa’s celebrated footballers 94. Benedict McCarthy – Bafana Bafana’s top scorer and the only South African footballer to date, to receive the UEFA Champions League winners’ medal 95. Janine van Wyk – South African Women Soccer Squad’s most capped player 96. Kaizer Motaung – Football administrator and Chairman of Kaizer Chiefs FC.
97. Danny Jordaan – CEO of the Soccer World Cup Bid Committee which won the right to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. 98. Bruce Fordyce – 9-time Comrades Marathon king 99. Zola Budd – Double World Cross-Country Champion and twice World 5000m record breaker 100. Caster Semenya – Two-time 800m Olympics gold medallist. 101. Josiah Thugwane – The first Black South African to win an Olympic gold medal. 102. Penelope “Penny” Heyns – 100m and 200m swimming events victor at a single Olympics and one-time 14 world records holder in the breaststroke. 103. Natalie du Toit – Made history in 2002 when she swam in the able-bodied 800m freestyle final at the Commonwealth Games.
104. Joe Sennakgomo – Entertainer who once performed with Fred Astaire. 105. Mandisa Mfeka – The first female fighter pilot in South Africa 106. George “Kortboy” Mpalweni – Man-about-town and leader of The Americans, of Sophiatown 107. Robert Marawa – Sports broadcaster & personality 108. Zulaikha Patel – Anti-racism activist About the artist/photographer M Jacob Mawela hails from a lineage of educationists on his father’s side – folk for whom his opting for a career in journalism over teaching, didn’t sit well with. A graduate of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication in Cape Town, his tutor was one-time Truth and Reconciliation Commission official photographer, George Hallett. As part of his assessment, Mawela presented a photo documentary on the Malay community of the Bo-Kaap, in Cape Town – which formed part of a group exhibition along students he was on the programme with in the summer of 1993.
A month before the epoch-making democratic elections of 1994, he was invited onto The Star newspaper’s then perpetually award-winning photographic department by its then chief photographer, Ken Oosterbroek (then of the Bang-Bang Club-fame), for an apprenticeship – subsequently serving a freelancer’s stint on the Johannesburg-based publication until the end of 1995. Below follows a timeline encapsulating his career in journalism and photography:
● 1996 – 2002: staff photojournalist on Drum magazine. ‘Twas pending his stint at the publication – in 1998 – that the originator of, ‘Le moment decisif’, Henri Cartier-Bresson sent Mawela a book containing drawings and photographs he had exhibited at Minneapolis Institute of Arts, following on photographer-to-photographer correspondence he had struck with the French master.
● 1996: together with filmmaker, Revel Fox (of Long Street-fame), Mawela co-produced and featured in the Johannesburg segment of an SABC-commissioned documentary on vintage automobiles titled, Car Lives.
● 1997: part of a select group of South African press photographers – which included Anton Hammerl (a former The Star colleague who was killed whilst covering post-Muammar Gaddafi Libya) and Gideon Mendel, among others – partaking in a World Press Photo Foundation workshop in Johannesburg.
● 2000: some of his work is featured in, A Bigger Picture: A Manual of Photo-journalism in Southern Africa, a book by Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology graduate, Margaret Waller.
● 2007: commissioned by management of the then newly opened Maponya Mall to deliver on a visual billboard marketing campaign.
● 2010: featured in Fifiela, a group photo exhibition unveiled as part of Human Rights Day commemorations under the banner of a collective known as the Soweto Photo Album. His presentation was a documentary on vintage automobiles owned by Soweto families.
● 2015: The Public Office of the US Consulate General [Johannesburg] commissioned him to instruct a 10-week Digital Photography course to 20 participants at its Rosa Parks Library Innovation Studio in White City, Soweto. The programme culminated in a students’ group exhibition curated by him. 2017: Publishers, Pan Macmillan used his image of fellow photographer, Jurgen Schadeberg on the latter’s memoir, The Way I See It, on the book’s jacket’s back-flap. In a news media career spanning two decades, Mawela has photographed global luminaries ranging from Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II and The Dalai Lama; American presidents, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter; British Premiers, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; political figures, Fidel Castro, Yassir Arafat, Stokely Carmichael, the IRA’s Gerry Adams and onetime Dawson’s Field Hijackings poster girl, Leila Khaled; entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates; media personalities, Oprah Winfrey and Christine Amanpour; Hollywood actors, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Will Smith and James Earl Jones; Formula 1 drivers, Mika Hakkinen, Jacques Villeneuve, David Coulthard, Jody Scheckter and Sir Stirling Moss; X-Games daredevil, Travis Pastrana; prize boxers, Evander Holyfield, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran; tennis royalty, namely, the Williams’ sisters, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg; basketballers, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Harlem Globetrotters; footballers, Eusebio, Ruud Gullit, Kevin Keegan and FC Barcelona and O Selecao (Brazil’s National football team), etc.; golfers, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia; musicians, The Spice Girls, Tina Turner, Randy Crawford, Harry Belafonte, Peter Gabriel, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, etc. – to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; photographers, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Gordon Parks; Mount Everest conquerors, Cathy O’Dowd and S’bu Vilane; novelists, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiongo’; fashion designer, Stella McCartney; artists, William Kentridge and George Pemba, et cetera.