The exhibition is composed of two bodies of work – “District Six” and “Exiles” – that archive figures, communities and events that would otherwise be lost or obscured from the public psyche.
George Hallett was born and raised in District Six. From the time he learned to operate a camera, Hallett was fascinated with capturing people’s lives as they converged in markets, cafés, churches, and streets. Thus, by 1966, when the National Party government announced that District Six was to be razed to the ground in order to make space for a new ‘whites-only area’, Hallett had already assembled an archive of a vibrant neighbourhood on the brink of subjugation. This series is particularly striking for Hallett’s nuanced, rather than voyeuristic, approach to his subjects, maintaining the integrity of the community and its collective memory.
Hallett’s series on South African exiles has similar concerns with space. As the apartheid government systematically forced people out of their homes, and out of the country, those who spoke out and sought justice had to create alternative spaces in exile. Fleeing South Africa in 1970, Hallett travelled throughout Europe, building an impressive portrait collection of fellow exiled South African artists, writers, and intellectuals.
As legacies of dispossession manifest today in issues of segregation, eviction, and gentrification, George Hallett’s work stays relevant. There is work to be done to allay how histories of colonialism and apartheid continue to affect people’s everyday, material lives. But, the memory of people who enliven those histories – documented by an artist with an eye for humanity – remains an equally important venture.