The images documenting the strikes and the tragedy that followed at Marikana were subject to an intense form of scrutiny. Initially this was for pragmatic reasons; via mediated photographic and filmed footage, supplemented and supported by textual accounts, that appeared in the mainstream press or the internet, the majority were able to grasp the tragic events that unfurled at the Lonmin mine near Rustenburg.
As we studied these images, and new images emerged that called into question the police’s conduct and ethics, our gaze intensified as we searched for new evidence or suppressed facts they might contain.
There was a sense that these images were clues to greater truths beyond the visual realm. This had something to do with the fact that the events were quickly read as symbolic not only of a growing discontent among an exploited and impoverished proletariat, but with Cyril Ramaphosa, aligned to Lonmin, the employers, it evoked the perceived betrayal of the struggle ideals by the country’s new elite.
Our ugly past reverberated through the police’s brutality and the violent actions of the miners. As we surveyed the scenes on this rural landscape, we were, are – the Marikana Commission of Inquiry has yet to be completed – transfixed by the possibility that they function as a window to our past, present and future.
In other words, our gaze is driven by a desire to see beyond, through and around what these images present.
Mary Wafer, more or less, attempts to perform this act in her exhibition Mine. Largely, Wafer works from existing representations documenting events around the massacre and the site itself, though it is stated that she visited it too, perhaps in an effort to reconcile the place with depictions of it.
Through painting she assumes to navigate or generate other kinds of visual representations, where the cold, hard facts, the straight edges of the journalistic mode, have been upturned in favour of a semi-abstract language. It is not complete abstraction; you can still identify the dark figures of the miners crowded together on the koppie in the Crowd series. In fact, in the monochromatic rendering titled Crowd I, the dark silhouettes of seated miners is the only motif on the canvas.