The exhibition takes Philemon Sheya Kaluwapa’s black-and-white photo album from the early 1980s as its starting point. The album contains photographic exercises made during his training as a photo technician at Foto DEWAG in East Berlin. Kaluwapa received a scholarship from the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which supported the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) in its struggle against the South African illegal apartheid regime. The placeless photographs, shot mainly in a studio setting, stand in contrast with Kaluwapa’s exile from Namibia in 1974 and his movements through various cultures, countries, and political systems.
Laura Horelli and Philemon Sheya Kaluwapa initially met through Horelli’s installation and short film Namibia Today (2017–2018) and have continued discussions ever since. Kaluwapa asked Horelli whether she could help him write his memoir. Horelli answered that she could not write a classical book, but she could try to develop biographical fragments into a film. Kaluwapa introduced Horelli to photographs he shot in East Berlin, including those of his study mates Nangula and Haufiku. From here, the authors developed a film, set in a photo studio to mirror the original setting of the photographs. The enlarged prints (From the Foto DEWAG Album) can also be viewed in the gallery’s studio space.
The film takes on several narrative strands, including Kaluwapa’s interest in how he could best use the medium to portray Blacks and his experiences in the African diaspora and the Cold War—particularly his pivotal decision to flee from East Berlin to West Berlin. The two-part title Philemon’s Photographs or Through an African Lens refers to the different but co-existing perspectives, identities, and motivations in making this artwork.
The film was scripted, but the conversations often took their own course during the shooting. Scenes with synchronised sound were combined with voice-over recordings resulting in an open form, a sort of experimental documentary. The predominant language of the film is German because both Kaluwapa and Horelli have lived in Berlin for a long time. Both speak German as their third language, adding migrant perspectives to the work. The choice of language, however, gains another dimension when seen in the context of German colonial history in Namibia.
Laura Horelli (born 1976, Helsinki) has lived in Berlin since 2001. As a visual artist and filmmaker, she is interested in representations and mediations of the past, taking on a microhistorical approach. She has examined private and public archives in her artistic research, which often results in films made up of and about photographs. Recent exhibitions and festivals include: Albertinum, Dresden; Afrika-Haus, Berlin (all 2022); TALA Namibia Film Festival, Windhoek (2021); Kirpilä Art Collection, Helsinki (2020); John Muafangejo Art Centre (JMAC) Gallery, Windhoek; Nordisk Panorama, Malmö; Helsinki International Film Festival Love & Anarchy; Docaviv, Tel Aviv; Galerie für Gegenwartskunst E-Werk, Freiburg; Forum Expanded, 69. Berlinale (all 2019). Her artist book Changes in Direction – a Journal was one of the Finnish Photobook Award 2021 finalists. www.laurahorelli.com
Philemon Sheya Kaluwapa (born 1955, Tsumeb, Namibia) has lived in Berlin since 1980. He is currently the Honorary Chairman of the Lukopane-Namibia Culture Society. He was the Secretary of Culture of the Namibian student organisation in the German Democratic Republic. In West Berlin, Kaluwapa was one of the founding members of the African Writers Association AWA-Finnaba. Their activities included the centenary of the Berlin Africa Conference at the Hebbel Theatre in 1984 to commemorate the events which led to the division of Africa into colonies. He has recently held presentations at the Albertinum, Dresden; the Humboldt Forum, Berlin (all 2022); and the Changing Room, Berlin (2021).
The exhibition and the production of the works have been supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike) and the Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture, AVEK.
Laura Horelli & Philemon Sheya Kaluwapa
Philemon’s Photographs or Through an African Lens
30 September – 23 October 2022
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte & Hippolyte Studio