Enemies and Friends

Seen on July 9, 2016 @ National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

Entering Enemies and Friends gets one out of the comfort zone. A warning that the images might not be suitable for sensitive viewers is well placed before you move further. In this exhibition James Oatway has brought together black & white pictures and full colour images of conflict and war that terrorize the streets and fields of South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Among many things the year 2016 signatured under the picture catches the eye. So recent, so close.

Think away the guns, machettes, knifes and explosives and you have colourful youth posing for a picture. What strikes is that these figthers are not photographed in the heat of action, but posing, almost leisurely before the photographer. It is one of the many subtle ways Oatway portrays the absurdity of war. Did these young men and women chose to be part of the tragedy they are in? Who is victim and who is aggressor? Posed portraits that become a pauze, a moment to reflect.

But capturing the fatal attack by South African men on Mozambican migrant Emmanuel Sithole on 18 April 2015 in Alexandria places xenophobia right before your eye. Streets with tuckshops, taverns and butchers become a scene where uncomprehensibility and blind hatred fight for dominion. This eye witness account again questions, provokes and becomes a lens to see the absurdity.

Between action and posing we find the black and white images of Congolese soldiers in the Central African Republic coming out of the forest, patrolling or fervently praying, caught in their daily life between fires, look as if frozen in time, caught in the moment, with no rehearsals and direction, young and older men with fear and tiredness in their eyes.

Dreams of piece shattered.

Photography: James Oatway