Houston — “Now is the Time: Leonard Freed’s Photographs of South Africa’s 1994 Election” features work drawn from a collection of more than 140 photographs of South Africa, mostly made in 1994, by the Brooklyn-born Magnum photographer Leonard Freed (1929–2006). Freed’s South Africa photographs were donated by his widow Bridgette to the Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections in 2019. Many of these photographs have never been exhibited before. The exhibition and opening are co-sponsored by the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston and Michigan State University. It is part of FotoFest’s Participating Spaces program. FotoFest is one of the world’s largest photography festivals. This year’s theme is “African Cosmologies: Photography, Time, and the Other.”
The exhibit debuts March 6th and runs through April 23rd. In 1994, Freed traveled to South Africa to photograph the nation’s first free post-apartheid election. From late March to early April 1994 he documented daily life, rallies, demonstrations, and the violence that took place in the run up to the election. His work reflects a respect and tenderness toward his subjects, even when recording scenes of death in a pre-election shoot-out known as the Shell House Massacre that took place between two black African groups, the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. Freed was not primarily a photographer of events; rather he was an observer of the little moments from which he created stories and visual poems. This explains why many of his photographs show children at play, men sharing a beer, a local Inkatha leader at home, life in a shanty town, street scenes in a bustling Johannesburg and religious life on Easter Sunday. Freed also shows people on their way to ANC rallies as well as at a white supremacist Freedom Front Party Rally in Roodepport.
Freed’s work is presented alongside selections from an oral history of Justice Albert “Albie” Sachs. Justice Sachs served on South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest constitutional court, from 1994 to 2009. A longtime member of the ANC, he was appointed to the court by Nelson Mandela. In his oral history, he reflects on his experiences during the 1994 South African election and his insights into Freed’s photographs. “The placing of Justice Sachs’s oral history alongside Freed’s photographs creates a unique dialogue. It offers insights into historical events and contextualizes the images in a very exciting way,” says exhibition co-curator and Professor of Photography and Visual Communication at Michigan State University, Howard Bossen.
“Unitarian Universalists have a long history of social justice work. We are proud to give a venue to this exhibit documenting and celebrating a historic and world-changing event,” exhibition co-curator and senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, Colin Bossen.
The exhibition runs March 6th to April 26th and is on view Monday through Wednesday, 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Thursday from 2:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Opening night celebrations will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on March 6th. An exhibition talk by Howard Bossen, “Leonard Freed: Photographer of Injustice” will take place on March 15th at 7:00 p.m. A special sermon by Colin Bossen in celebration of the exhibition is scheduled for March 8th at 10:30 a.m.