Change the world


SITE: Engaging the archive is a photographic exhibition by Photography Professor, Heidi Saayman Hattingh challenging perceptions of colonial English identity as private photographic narratives resist and/or endorse the popular image of women perpetuated by advertising in South African English-language women’s magazines during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

SITE is designed in such a way that it functions as a space of otherness and difference, a liminal space – ambiguous and ambivalent, moving between public and private as well as between commerce and culture.

Heidi Saayman Hattingh is currently an Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Department at Nelson Mandela University. She has been conducting on-going research in South African social documentary photography over the past eighteen years. She has presented at both national and international conferences, as well as published in journals and as chapters in books. Her current area of research interest lies in South African visual identity, particularly iconic imagery, visual communication and cultural identity. She is particularly interested in practice based research and is currently working towards a practice based PhD at Stellenbosch University. As her research has progressed she has become increasingly interested in understanding the significance that the image has played in South African cultural identity.  

Her exhibition Site brings together private narrative, family albums, and public historical narrative, in the form of popular media, in order to question the naturalised understanding of English-speaking South African women. This understanding is not to define a particular identity but rather to centre on engaging the real and the imagined. The photographic image is presented as a trace of the real and a site of memory and post-memory or secondary memory, which can be viewed from differing perspectives.

The curatorial process allows an interpretation of differing narratives establishing sites that reflect transient experiences and constructed identities. Real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted, in order to reveal ourselves to ourselves, a dialectical relationship where opposing forces come together.

Using the family album of her great aunt Mollie Smith (1914-2008), a white middle-class South African citizen of Scottish descent as well as archived magazine articles and advertising Heidi curates and repositions images from the period between the mid 1920s to mid 1930s,  to allow the viewer an alternative reading experience.

As a postcolonial white English-speaking South African woman, Heidi acknowledges that her interest in Mollie Smith’s family albums is also partly motivated by the fact that she is a descendant of the Smith family of Transkei traders into which she married who were also traders in the Namaque district. Although photographs of her ancestors, and in particular her grandmother and mother, appear in her albums, they are not the focus of concern in this study. Heidi believes that by interpreting Mollie Smith’s visual reflection of herself within the family album, a more comprehensive understanding of the role of women has the potential to emerge, with which she can reflect on the understanding of self.

The exploration of new ways of understanding the world folded into the self allows for the possibility of a deeper understanding of how the individual relates with history, with familial and cultural identity.

Opening - Tuesday 20 November: 18.00 for 18.30  

Bird Street Gallery

20 Bird Street, Central

Address by Prof. Mary Duker

On view: 21 November – 12 December (Weekdays 9.00-15.00)  

Enquiries: Jonathan at 041 504 3293 or


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Contact information
Mr Jonathan Van der Walt
Associate Lecturer: Visual Arts
Tel: 0415043293