KNOWING THE UNKNOWN
“It is necessary to strain one’s ears, bending
down toward the muttering world, trying to perceive the many images that have never reached the colours of wakefulness”.
Old age is a contemporary issue, but it is simply subverted by the dominance of youth culture. An inexcusable error in judgement, for the palette of life is diffuse and enduring.
My intention is to redefine the almost obscured, undocumented role elderly individuals play in South African life, to shift blind and submerged prejudice at the interface of old age. The first 12 environmental portraits - titled "Knowing the Unknown" series - were taken of residents at Luckhoff Old Age Home in the affluent suburb of Rondebosch, surrounded by objects of personal meaning in the living space of a room, with the corridor of an institution beyond. In the dementia ward, each has a desk-like armchair. Their identity is incoherent, and yet bonded to their loved ones by proxy. They appear to participate in a “bare life” in the same “state of exception” that James Sey, in his sobering essay The Black Asylum, applies to mental asylums and refugees (Sey, 2010; 45).
The declining years are marked with imperfect complexity, physical hardship and often mental deterioration, but invite a query of each individual’s lack of political and social power, and (ironically) inchoate identity as ‘old’ in the surrounding world. Whether enclosed in an old age home or insistently surviving in a township, these lives have a history, a consequence and an ephemeral present. And we have to question why, at our own reckoning, we leave them invisible and powerless in contemporary life.
Sey, J. 2010. The Black Asylum. the Johanesburg Salon, Vol 3. pp.45-50. Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism: University of the Witwatersrand