Margaret Courtney-Clark Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain

Life is Them, Emsi Tjambiru and Beverly Tjivinde dance on the road near their craft stall to flag down tourist buses, 2017.

Always, Talita Witbooi, a shepherdess, with daughter Talisha, a year after losing her son to a snakebite, 2017.

A Place Called Shelter, Sara Swartbooi carries a sheet of scrap metal to build a shelter near the gravel road from Henties Bay to Usakos. Here she will sell semi-precious stones to occasional passers-by, 2015.

Melody under the Sun, Gottlieb (“God is love”) Khatanab, Gaseb aka Die vioolman (The Violinist) is a self-taught musician who lives in a remote outpost beneath the Dȃures granite massif. He earns a living from playing the violin at community weddings and funerals, 2014.

Frail and Flowering, The flowering wild tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) is used by local people for hunting rituals and medicinally as a poultice to treat wounds, 2014.

Embodying Hope, 2015.

Waiting for Rain, Experimental plot to evaluate grass species and measure rainfall, 2015.

“I’ll get Rich”, Francois! Uri-khob breeds pigeons to support his siblings after his family lost their goats and donkeys to drought and poaching, 2017.

Mirror in the Landscape, Liskien Gawanas on her way from an aquifer, a daunting journey on foot over rock and a gruelling descent underground. This freshwater spring will have been used by southern Africa’s earliest inhabitants, the Bushmen, who left their rock art throughout these parts, 2015.

"The Rain will Come", Susanna! Uri-Khos’s iron bathtub, raised on a scaffold, serves as a rain-fed shower – a signal of optimism at odds with the brutal logic of this parched place. Though it has been dry for three years, the sky is now filled with Hope, 2018.

Artist's statement

Namibia is steeped in histories dating from the earliest inhabitants – Khoi, Bushmen, Herero, Namaqua, Damara et al to German occupation, to the South Africans and apartheid, and now to ‘liberation’ and statehood – a nation of diverse peoples and cultures in a vast land of seeming nothingness and unparalleled light. I seek out the traces of their passing on the land.

Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain is a record of this social process, which has always hinged on the fragility of Hope.

The existential world of the people I photograph is located in an unforgiving environment where life is precarious: little or no rain, scarce water and food, people abandoned by their government and forced to migrate to flee the emptiness... Their only anchor is the expectation that life will persist against these odds.

I keep returning to the women and men I have met, photographing them anew as they share their unfolding stories. 

Every form of human existence and of Nature, in its infinite variety, has wonder at its very core, and it is our ‘openness’ to the world that makes us both free to create in it and, at the same time, be responsible for our creations.

My art derives from this space, the point where freedom meets responsibility, rationality meets imagination, and self meets other. This silent point is the source of all that is humanly significant.

My own motivation is to find a place here among my fellow people, building relationships over time that allow me to discover, against the seared backdrop, their hidden world of nurtured aspirations, the embodiment of Hope.

About the author

Born

1949, Namibia

Nationality

Namibian

Based in

Swakopmund, Namibia

Margaret Courtney-Clarke was born in Swakopmund, Namibia in 1949 where she is currently based. After studying art and photography in South Africa, she spent the next four decades working as a photographer in Italy, the USA and across Africa.

Courtney-Clarke began her career working under Italian photographer and filmmaker Pasquale De Antonis photographing art, architecture and antiquities, before travelling as a freelance photographer on magazine assignments in Europe and Africa during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1979 Courtney-Clarke became a persona non grata under the Apartheid laws and renounced her South African citizenship – she would later return to South West Africa under the protection of the United Nations and claim her Namibian citizenship. Throughout her career, Courtney-Clarke would pursue personal projects in Africa documenting feminine identity.

The body of work, Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain (2014–18), marks a new phase in Courtney-Clarke’s photographic work, documenting the artist’s return to Namibia and her engagement with its people and a landscape in crisis.

She has been recognised by the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis; the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award (longlisted); the 2018 PDN Photo Annual and the 2015 Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson HCB Award (nominated). Over 200 exhibitions of Courtney-Clarke’s photography have been held around the world.

Dedicated publications on Courtney-Clarke’s work include, amongst others, Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain (2017); her trilogy on the art of African women, Ndebele (2002); African Canvas (1990) and Imazighen (1996) as well as several collaborations with Maya Angelou.

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