African-American Museum Prepares to Reopen with Reception for Peter Magubane
Peter Magubane, probably South Africa's best known photographer, honored by reception at the African-American Museum January 23.
By Leslie Evans
Peter Magubane is a virtual institution. His photographs have documented the struggle for liberation in South Africa for more than 50 years, he has published a dozen books of photography, and been the subject of innumerable exihibits. Now a visiting scholar at UCLA, Magubane was honored at a reception January 23 at the newly renovated African-American Museum in Exposition Park. The reception was cosponsored by the Museum, the UCLA Center for African-American Studies, the Black Photographers of California, and the UCLA Center for African Studies.
More than 100 people attended the invitation-only event, the first since the Museum was closed for a $3.8 million renovation in September 2001. The meeting was opened by Dr. Claudine Mtshali, Consul General of South Africa. For a man who had been at the center of the antiapartheid storm, Peter Magubane seemed almost shy. On the walls were his photographs of Nelson Mandela being taken to his treason trial in 1956, and of the 69 coffins of the victims of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, of a woman with massive scars from a police bullet wound in her stomach that Magubane took in 1978, events that shook the country for much of the last century.
Magubane himself spent 586 days in solitary confinement under the racist regime. His nose was broken by the police, and he was shot with a shotgun, but survived it.
Peter Magubane had been close friends for many years with American black photographer Roland Charles, who died in 2000. Roland Charles' widow Deborah Charles presented an award to Magubane at the reception. Peter Magubane said of his friend, "We started this thing a long time ago, Roland Charles and I. We called each other maybe twice a week." He recalled his years in prison: "Two years on bread and water, my fractured nose. It was not for nothing. My work will be shown in this beautiful museum, where it will be seen by people who were in the same struggle as my people against apartheid. Segregation is the same as apartheid. Signs that say 'colored only' are the same as signs that say 'Europeans only.'" The African-American Museum will reopen to the public on March 2, and plans a large exhibit of Magubane's photographs to open early in 2004.
For much of his career Peter Magubane was mainly a photojournalist. He worked for Time magazine, and for the UN as well as for South African publications. In recent years, however, he has become an art photographer and has devoted his work to documenting in gorgeous color photographs the lives of those Africans who still live in the traditional tribal ways. He brought with him copies of his art book book Vanishing Cultures of South Africa: Changing Customs in a Changing World.
Peter Magubane is having two meetings at UCLA sponsored by the Center for African Studies. On Tuesday, January 28, he is meeting with students in African Studies. And on Wednesday, January 29, he is speaking to UCLA students and faculty.