Billed as “a story about love, loyalty and the choices we make in the circumstance we have”, the exhibition, Love from Manenberg, offers a candid, intimate and insightful peek into the lives of those who live in the area, which has become known for its struggles with gangs, poverty and substance abuse.
Shot by Sarah Stacke, the New York-based photographer, the body of work’s media release reads: “The people of Manenberg are infinitely more complex than the facts of those things. Nobody is any one thing all the time. It is what is in the heart that binds us.”
Says Ms Stacke: “Manenberg is very narrowly represented in the media. My intention in capturing these images was to show the great sense of community there. There is really only a small percentage of people there committing violent crimes.”
The exhibition is currently on show at Youngblood Gallery, 70 Bree Street.
In addition to the main body of 21 photographs, the exhibition includes 56 snapshots, maps of the area as well as printed screen shots of WhatsApp messages between the photographer and one of its central subjects, Deborah Lotterring.
“These were messages we exchanged over three years, mostly while I was not in South Africa. They show how, over those years, we really formed a friendship, talking about our daily lives: from the boring stuff to the major events.”
According to Ms Lotterring, it was everything – from the “boring” to the “major” – that Ms Stacke was interested in during her period documenting the community, from 2012 until this year.
“She took pictures of everything. Everything.” laughs Ms Lottering. “She’d sleep over at our house and we’d show her around.”
Ms Lottering, who has been living in Manenberg since she was born – “27 years, almost” – was introduced to the photographer through her sister, Naomi.
Says Ms Stacke: “I met Naomi on Sea Point Promenade and befriended her. She took me to Manenberg and, when I saw the love people have for each other there and the sense of community in this place of turmoil, I decided to start documenting it.”
For Ms Lottering, the area is, warts and all, the only place she is willing to call home.
“Manenberg,” she says, “is a good place to live. It’s just now that the drugs and gangs are getting a bit much. But I wouldn’t want to move out.”
Ms Stacke adds: “You know, it’s so easy for people not from this kind of environment to say, ‘Well, why don’t people just not make better choices?’ But, if you’re a young boy and you grow up in a household where all your brothers are in gangs, what kind of choice is there, really?
“People are making tragic decisions, yes, but what is really shameful is the systems and institutions that have failed the people of Manenberg. There are, for example, no extracurricular activities; no parks; no basketball courts or whatever.
“Also, what you see when you walk those streets, people are laughing and talking to their neighbours. Yes, there are bad things, but it’s fun. I have fun when I go there.”
As to whether the exhibition will eventually be shown in the area, Ms Stacke says: “I have a hope that the library there would allow me to show it. I would love to show it in the area, yes. Because, you know, at the opening night we had a taxi load full of people from the area coming to see it. And you could see that they were really seeing their lives in the pictures; they were seeing their stories.”
Ms Lottering laughs: “You know, some of my friends were like, ‘Yho, Debbie, your pictures are on the walls … you think you kwaai. But for me, I just really appreciate it.
“The exhibition must come to Manenberg,” she adds emphatically. “So that people can see – so that the kids can see – that there are good things in Manenberg; that there are good people doing good things to change people’s perspectives. I mean, there are a lot, a lot, a lot of good people in Manenberg.”
* Love from Manenberg runs at the Youngblood Gallery, 70 Bree Street, until Friday May 27. For more information, call 021 424 0074.