Black-and-white portraits from apartheid-era South Africa

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Photo courtesy of The Walther Collection. Copyright, S.J. Moodley Family

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IVETTE FELICIANO: These photographs by S.J. “Kitty” Moodley are part of an exhibit called “Who I Am: Rediscovered Portraits from Apartheid South Africa,” now at the Walther Collection project space in New York City.

In 1957, after being fired from a shoe factory, Moodley opened a studio in a working class area and served mostly “non-whites” like himself.

In line with his political views — that’s Moodley at a rally — his studio in the 70s and 80s became a safe space for anti-apartheid activists.

STEVEN DUBIN: It reminds me very much of African-American barbershops.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Columbia University professor steven dubin curated the exhibit and spoke to “newshour weekend” by skype from south africa.

STEVEN DUBIN: People can come, they can get news, they can share news, they can talk about ideas. You know, Kitty’s studio, you know, served the same function.

IVETTE FELICIANO: While photojournalists often documented the protests and violence of the time, these photos tell a different story.

STEVEN DUBIN: Even under the the most restricted conditions people were able to fashion lives for themselves and perhaps they were able to imagine lives for themselves that did not exist before that.

IVETTE FELICIANO: The 38 photos on display are often playful. A lady wearing a lampshade on her head. Three men dancing. Moodley also captured the bending of social norms.

Here a woman wears traditional Zulu female attire, and then she’s seen in pants typically worn by Zulu men. According to Dubin, dressing like that would have been considered daring. But Moodley’s studio allowed for self-expression during a turbulent time.

He died in 1987 — seven years before apartheid collapsed. These photos will be on display until September third.

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