Promises and Lies: The ANC, Exile and the Project of Freedom

Curated by Dr Siona O’Connell, in partnership with  the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD) and the Centre for Curating the Archive (CCA)
11 May – 4 June 2017
FADA Gallery, FADA Building, Bunting Road Campus



The years 1989-1991 marked a world in transition, with revolutions in the Eastern Bloc, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in South Africa, the dismantling of apartheid. Events critical to the latter transition – from white minority rule to multiracial democracy – included the unbanning of organisations like the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan African Congress (PAC); the return of political exiles; the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners; and the initiation of political negotiations in the country.

As with that period, the past three years have signaled in South Africa a certain turning-point – a critical shift, charged by student-lead protests aimed at forms of institutionalised racism and the slow pace of transformation in universities; the increasing proliferation of service-delivery protests across the country; and in general, a growing disenchantment with the social imaginaries of ‘Rainbowism’ and the ‘New South Africa’. In addition to this, charges of corruption, mismanagement and even state-capture have brought Government and the integrity of the ANC into disrepute.

Taken by award-winning British photographer Laurie Sparham, and collated by curator and filmmaker Dr Siona O’Connell, the thirty unique photographs in this exhibition chronicle the experience of ANC exiles living in Tanzania and Zambia from 1989-1990. Featuring a provocative new documentary by O’Connell, titled Promises & Lies – Fault Lines in the ANC, the exhibition offers viewers a chance to consider the personal and familial sacrifices of political exile, the promise of freedom that was its aspiration, and these in relation to a current landscape of crisis and failure in which we, as ‘new South Africans’, find ourselves complicit. The images compel us to think about links and traces, aspirations and accountability – and, in the interests of an as-of-yet unrealised freedom, difficult questions we must ask of history and its resonances in the present.



• Exhibition part I: Promises & Lies – The ANC, Exile & the Project of Freedom
11 May – 4 June, 2017 / FADA Gallery, University of Johannesburg


Dr Siona O’Connell is an academic, curator and filmmaker currently based at the University of Pretoria. O’Connell is a research affiliate for the Centre for Curating the Archive, University of Cape Town. She is also a Trilateral Reconnections Project Fellow and a BIARI (Brown Internal Advanced Research Institute) alumnus.
Her work around archives and curation seeks to shift frames from aesthetics to restorative justice, opening up questions around representation, freedom, trauma and memory in the aftermath of oppression. She is committed to research that engages new constituencies. Her projects include working with clothing and textile workers in South Africa, forced removals, pageants of the Western Cape and the apartheid imagery of Adile Bradlow, Benny Gool and Zubeida Vallie. She h as produced and directed five documentaries using the exhibition and documentary film as the entry point into conversations on ways of life after apartheid.

Centre for Curating the Archive (CCA)/University of Cape Town
The Centre for Curating the Archive is based at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, at the University of Cape Town‘s Hiddingh Campus. The CCA works actively with many different kinds of collections, developing curatorship as a creative site of knowledge. Projects, publications and courses aim, through practice, to open up novel combinations of the historically separated domains of the creative arts and the truth-claiming discourses of history and the social and natural sciences.


For further information on the event please contact:
James Macdonald, Curatorial Project Manager, Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre
Office: +27 (0)11 559 1442, Email:
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Promises and Lies: The ANC, Exile and the Project of Freedom

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