The Struggle of Memory against Forgetting: Afterlife and Memorialization of Imagery Surrounding South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Madeleine Bazil

Given that truth commissions are heavily intertwined with the social politics of societal memory and the historical perception of events, the imagery surrounding these hearings therefore plays a role worth examining throughout this memorialization process. This essay investigates how imagery from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings has experienced an afterlife in the subsequent decades, and how this afterlife may differ from the images’ original values and purpose. This body of work examines the extended life of these images beyond that of straightforward media representation of the event—looking at how these archival elements have been reappropriated and incorporated into fine-art bodies of work by artists and documentarians working in photography, such as Sue Williamson, Jo Ratcliffe, Berni Searle, Penny Siopis, and others, in order to respond to the TRC by participating in and driving conversations surrounding the commission’s ambiguities, contradictions, and inadequacies. Through a semiotic analysis of the imagery itself, and analysis of the contextual placement and dissemination of the imagery in both its original and subsequent usages, this research therefore seeks to holistically understand the role of visual media in South Africa’s era of transitional justice and reckoning.

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Madeleine Bazil is a multidisciplinary artist interested in memory, intimacy, and the ways we navigate worlds—real and imagined. Madeleine holds an MA Hons (First Class) in English literature from the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She is a master’s candidate of Documentary Arts at the University of Cape Town, where her current research and practice investigate the role of the archive in post-traumatic documentary film. 

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