Carla Liesching critically examines South Africa’s colonial past and the imagery and mythology of the ‘world of whiteness’

Reading Time: 3 a few minutes

The photographer’s new reserve, Good Hope, draws upon archival imagery and textual content to build a layered plus fragmented narrative

“South Africa’s Cabo da Boa Esperança  – the Cape of Good Hope – was called in 1488 by the Portuguese. Due to its prime position as being a half-way point along the Liven Route, it had a crucial role in world business. In 1652, three Dutch East India Company ships arrived to cultivate the vegetable garden and establish a ‘refreshment station’. In 1795, the British sent the fleet of nine warships that took control of the territory. These events inaugurated centuries of colonial dominance, superiority, genocide and land dispossession that pushed a Black and Indigenous majority in to rural reserves and congested urban townships. ” 

Based between South Africa and Ithaca, New York, 36-year-old artist Carla Liesching is describing a brief history behind her new photobook Good Wish , published with Mack Books this week. In tandem along with exploring these cultural situations, the Cape of Good Wish is also where the artist came to be, and where her ancestors established itself, so the book is a sort of reckoning with her own implication too.  

Carla Liesching. Image from Good Hope (MACK, 2021).
Courtesy the artist plus MACK.

Carla Liesching. Image from Good Hope (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the particular artist and MACK.

A layered and fragmented narrative made up of both photographs and personal prose, Good Hope consists of images cut from tourist pamphlets, issues associated with old magazines such as National Geographic and Life , current newspapers and family albums. The clippings focus specifically within the gardens and grounds of the area. Liesching began collecting this material years ago, however it was only in 2017, while studying her MFA in Ithaca, that a task began to emerge.

“I had been writing fragmented prose plus annotations in relation to collected photos and objects – items that I perceived to be in some way icons and building blocks associated with whiteness, ” she claims. Then, during one of the girl research trips home, the lady discovered a box associated with apartheid-era South African Vistas magazines and Africa-themed Country wide Geographics in a thrift store. “From Cape-to-Cairo railway plans, to gold and diamond mines and safaris – the collection of found symbolism depicted visions of The southern area of Africa to attract tourists and investors alike, ” she recalls. “Related as [the colonialism, tourism and trade] are, the project grew came from here into one that involves both an intimate look at my own life like a white bodied person having an inheritance of white assault that needs to be unlearned, and an essential examination of the imagery, language and mythologies that save this ‘world of whiteness’ so firmly in place. ” 

Carla Liesching. Image from Good Hope (MACK, 2021).
Courtesy the performer and MACK

Carla Liesching. Image from Good Hope (MACK, 2021).
Good manners the artist and MACK.

Sydelle Willow Smith. ‘Christmas Day, Hermanus. December 2016’ from your series Un/Settled, from Good Hope by Carla Liesching (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

Working intuitively to group images together, Liesching quickly realised that the book form was an ideal container with this project. “Working with actual physical materials, poking holes, ripping things up, finding repeated motifs or hidden connections and patterns, and then rearranging these types of in multiple ways – these are strategies to avoid linearity and certainty, which are also colonial impulses, ” the girl says.  

Although Good Hope takes a historical instant as its starting point, Liesching describes that ultimately it is very a lot about the present, in all its continued brutality and inequity. “My hope is that the images in Good Hope will function in an uncomfortably seductive way, so that the reader will be drawn in, but can no longer look at them neutrally, with their role in empire-building now laid bare, ” she states. “I think this is important because tropes of ‘adventure’ and ‘expedition’ become children’s tales, toys, movies, museum shows, school text-books and more. ” Ultimately, she says, making art is about being a section of a conversation, and she expectations this book will act as a good invitation for the reader to participate too.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is really a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for more than 40 international magazines plus journals, and held roles as editor for organizations including The Photographers’ Gallery, Hidden Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She lately completed an MA in comparative literature and critique at Goldsmiths College, University of London

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