29.06 > 27.07.2017
Ângela Ferreira — Talk  Tower for Ingrid Jonker
with Pau Grendon

Poetry in death

“In the midst of despair, she celebrated hope. Confronted by death, she asserted the beauty of life.”
Nelson Mandela (May, 1994)

It’s what Ingrid Jonker chose. It’s hard to talk about suicide, to accept it, to respect it. Above all, it’s difficult to understand. Indeed, what we know about Ingrid Jonker is that she suffered, as do all those who make a decision of that nature. I believe that those who deeply feel the absence of justice are unable to live in a place where they face situations of segregation, social hostility or racism on a daily basis. I believe the pain of not being able to rectify this inequality keeps them from living in peace and harmony. And that, in the end, the pain of living outweighs the fear of dying. Jonker’s choice leads theorists to suppose personal, social or psychiatric issues. It leads me only to the essence of an act of liberation. And that in the end sums up everything she tried to defend in the few years of her life: the freedom of choice as fundamental to any human being. When I look at the various images in Ângela Ferreira’s exhibition of the sea where Ingrid Jonker decided to enter for the last time, I see poetry. Jonker loved this sea and the landscape is not only beautiful but also recalls her life. It’s what Ingrid Jonker chose. And her choice, at the suggestion of Ângela Ferreira, also brings to mind the child who did not die. We look at the pictures of that beach in Cape Town and at the same time we hear Jonker’s voice reciting in an almost indecipherable, coded language her poem “Die Kind” (”The Child”). The sound is emitted by a replica radio tower, carefully designed and built by Ângela Ferreira and a symbolic object insofar as it is a propagator of messages. This object leads us to believe that we hear a live person telling us about another place. Image and sound fuse. They speak of freedom and pain. Of perseverance, struggle, courage. Of eternity. Of life and death. Ingrid Jonker confronted apartheid through her poetry. She fought with energy and determination against racial discrimination in South Africa and for the human rights of all. On the day she saw a black child in the arms of its mother in Nyanga, dying from a gunshot wound to the head, Jonker, who at the time had a young daughter herself, felt the need to immortalise the episode she could not and did not want to forget. Through that poem written in Afrikaans, the child became a symbol in the fight against apartheid. That child would become the shadow of the soldiers who fired upon her. That child would rise up and cry out to the world forever in defence of democracy and human rights in South Africa. And she would never die. When Nelson Mandela spoke of the poet in his first presidential address in 1994, he did so truthfully: “(...) she took her own life, she was both an Afrikaner and an African (...)”. It’s what Ingrid Jonker chose and Ângela Ferreira shows us that choice with a cadence all of her own. She involves us. At once she asks us to look, then to close our eyes and listen. She demands that we feel. Because it is not possible to hear those voices transformed into poetry, to see that beach, those rocks and that sea, without feeling something. And while Mandela tells the world that the child is not dead, the Cape Town sea reminds us of the silence and peace of those who no longer exist.

Vera Appleton, 2017

credits © photodocumenta

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