Jo Ractliffe 18
Jo Ractliffe (b. 1961, Cape Town) is a Johannesburg-based photographer and lecturer. Ractliffe completed her M.F.A. degree with highest honors from University of Cape Town, and during the 1980s she lectured in the Fine Arts departments of both Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town, before moving to Johannesburg in the early 1990s to take a full-time lecturing position at the University of the Witwatersrand. Ractliffe is internationally renowned for her photographic canon, which often utilises the disciplines of installation art and video. Her combination of documentary-fiction and sublime-truthfulness creates a critical engagement with the medium of photography, emphasizing its varying practices and disciplines within the context of Africa. Her conceptual approach exposes the often distorted interests and differing ‘truths’ created by the socio-political landscape of Southern Africa. Traditional
universals such as time, place, history and memory are not A priori givens in Ractliffe’s world; they are merely viewed as transient and constructed. This is especially so given South Africa’s turbulent past, where the ideas of the privileged minority took the place of objectivity and truth. The vanguard of Ractliffe’s oeuvre consists of three series: Terreno Ocupado (2008), As Terras do Fim do Mundo (2010), and The Borderlands (2013). Together, these three bodies of work gradually explore the spatial and temporal traces of strife and dissention. Of particular interest are the shifting topologies and fragmented demographics that Ractliffe exposes, resulting from South Africa’s ‘Border War’ during the 1970s and 80s, which involved Angola and Namibia (then known as South West Africa). The image of the ‘militarised landscape’ is key to understanding Ractliffe’s current work, making the territory itself physiognomic: a character in its own right. Her images capture ignored and forgotten
places significant to war, negating the commonplace depictions of the subject, which are normally connected to the South African Defense Force (SADF) and its movements during the border war. Absence takes on the appearance of presence in Ractliffe’s images, particularly regarding the remnants of withdrawal out of conflict territories and the resultant entropic decay that follows. Radcliffe’s earlier work echoes this ambiguity between absence and presence, past and present. At the 1997 Johannesburg Biennale she exhibited a film titled Balaam, which would later form part of a broader investigation called End of Time (1996-1999). This work studied the movements of the Karretjie Mense, a semi-nomadic community in the Karoo region of South Africa, and their efforts to find work at the various farms in the region. It was the result of a road trip through the Karoo on the N1 highway, where Ractliffe stumbled upon three dead donkeys on the side of the road
A catalogue detailing the works and artists included in the third iJusi portfolio, curated by Pieter Hugo.