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Memorial Landscapes of Namibia Earlier societies managed so that memory, the substitute for life, was eternal and that at least the thing which spoke of Death should itself be immortal: this was the Monument. Modern society, by making the (mortal) Photograph into the general and somehow the natural witness of "What has been," has renounced the Monument. A paradox: the same century invented History and Photography. 1

~ Roland Barthes The series Memorial Landscapes draws on images of Namibia's colonial and post-colonial ideological structures. The memorials reveal the transformations and tensions of a country entering its third decade of independence from colonial and apartheid forces, and demonstrate how landscapes, and structures within landscapes, are never neutral. Barthes'quote now seems anachronistic, especially since there has been an international proliferation of monuments in the past few decades. Both monuments and photography persist in their role of compensating for our fear of forgetting and helping to ease the burden of having to remember. The Reiterdenkmal is synonymous with Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, or the place where "the rider never gets off the horse". The Reiterdenkmal was inaugurated on Kaiser Wilhelm's birthday, on 27 January 1912. On 19 August 2009, the historical landscape

was altered - the bronze statue of horse and rider, weighing over two tons and wrapped in plastic, was unbolted, lifted into a crate and moved to a new position to make way for an independence memorial. The Reiterdenkmal served only briefly as an icon of German power and victory. By 1915 Germany had lost the colony to South African forces.


Nevertheless, for almost a century afterwards, the

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Notes on Photography, trans. Ron Howard, New York:

Noonday Press, 1981.


image of the monument held a privileged place in colonial visual culture. Unavoidably, the removal of the monument from its The rider and its horse, in

original location caused controversy.

its prominent location, had become an intrinsic part of a city's historical fabric, a landmark that had meaning beyond its symbolic and emotional impact. But those who argued against its removal

underestimated the persistent power of its representation of suffering under occupation.

The Reiterdenkmal has recently been re-erected on a nearby, less prominent site, in front of the Alte Feste (the old German Fort). Symbolically, its demise is confirmed in the images showing the process of its removal. The empty pedestal, conversely, presents the collapse of this long era of `colonization'. The horse and rider, now in its new location, gaze onto the multi-million dollar construction site of the new Independence Memorial Museum dedicated to the liberation struggle, and built by North Koreans. The North Koreans and Chinese, many of whom have a

working relationship with the new government in power, are responsible for the construction of several major public buildings and memorials in Namibia; the structures reveal vestiges of Communist Socialist Realism, and introduce a new element into the built environment of Namibia. Documenting the removal of the Reiterdenkmal led me to explore other sites that reference the country's socio-political heritage and transformation. In one image, a young Herero man, Kaindjee Tjivikua, stands defiantly on the `Marine Denkmal' in Swakopmund. The Denkmal was commissioned in 1907 by the Marine Infantry in Kiel, and designed by the Berlin sculptor A.M. Wolff. It commemorates the First Marine Expedition Corps, which took part in suppressing the Herero uprisings of 1904, and still stands in its original location. Today, the young Tjivikua feels no hesitation in claiming his position on top of the monument. The images of Heroes' Acre narrate an entirely different


perspective. The ideologies of this recently contructed monument are firmly in place. We see the former president Sam Nujoma, still a dominating presence on the Namibian scene, in a position of triumphant combat. The war memorial, constructed by a North Korean company, was unveiled in 2002. The Windhoek City Council describes the purpose of the monument as the fostering of " ... a spirit of patriotism and nationalism, and to pass on the legacy to the future generations of Namibia". By showing a `displaced' Reiterdenkmal in relation to the Heroes' Acre, the earlier associations to the Denkmal are turned on their head. To return to Barthes' quote, as the media has proliferated, and as meaning is sought in digital formats, the photograph has to a large extent replaced the function of the physical `memorial'. Yet

the latter have not diminished as new political dispensations remove what they regard as subversive symbolism, and replace old power symbols with their own, or as physical reminders are sought for traumatic or life-changing events. My photography grasps at recording physical memorials and monuments, in an effort to convey conflicting memories, however opaque or re-narrated the understanding of these images is. Where memorials are likely to disappear or disintegrate, the photograph extends the cycle of memory-making and adds to the discourse about how we choose to remember the past.

Nicola Brandt


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