WHAT’S GOING ON : Catherine Allport’s Photographic Journey Through Apartheid Seeks to Bring Truth Home

Zan Dubin is a Times staff writer who writes about the arts for The Times Orange County Edition

Catherine Allport considers herself an “artist-activist-journalist.” That’s why, when she went to South Africa in 1985, she wanted to take photographs that told the story of apartheid with greater power, depth and voracity than she says the mainstream media had been doing.

“It’s very hard to imagine what being in South Africa is like without being there,” said Allport, a Berkeley free-lance photojournalist, “especially from the kind of press coverage we get over here; it’s so minimal. . . . My work is about going to various places and bringing back information so that people can understand what is really happening there.”

Forty-five color photographs that Allport took during her six-week 1985 South African trip make up “Apartheid No!,” which opens Saturday at the Fullerton Museum Center. The show examines issues of racial injustice, poverty, dissent and international divestment. Also on view will be an 80-piece exhibit of related posters from the United States, Europe, the Soviet Union, Cuba and Africa, titled “Southern Africa: The Struggle Continues.”


Though white-minority rule still exists in South Africa, headway has been made toward ending apartheid. Allport’s photographs predate the changes, but the museum center wanted to exhibit them, along with written explanations of the current political situation, to give viewers a historical context to “understand what the conditions were like, what the problems were and the progress that still needs to be made,” said Lynn La Bate, museum center curator.

The day that Allport arrived in the strife-torn country, the ruling National Party had declared a state of emergency, which eventually resulted in the arrest of thousands, she said. One of the first things she saw immediately brought her better understanding of the oppressive situation.

“I went to my hotel and on the TV in the lobby was the image of a young black woman being stoned and burned to death by another black,” Allport said. But the violence, known as “black on black violence,” was being “promoted and generated by the white racist regime of South Africa,” she said, and being falsely portrayed as “the reason to impose the state of emergency, when in fact what was getting so out of hand, in the eyes of the nationalist government, was the people rising up against apartheid.”

Among her photographs are pictures of a liquor store with separate entrances for blacks and whites and the open-casket funeral of a young black member of the United Democratic Front, a since-disbanded coalition of anti-apartheid organizations, who had been killed by police, she said.

By 1986, apartheid law disallowed funerals, because the gathering of more than two people was considered “a riotous crowd,” Allport said. But prior to that, funerals were avenues for demonstrations “where you could really see and hear the speeches and the rally cries of the democratic movement. So I went to many.”

Allport singled out one photograph in the exhibit as best capturing the indomitable spirit of South Africans to overcome apartheid. It depicts the funeral of Victoria Mxenge, a civil rights lawyer who was killed the day before she was scheduled to defend 17 UDF members on charges of treason, Allport said. She described the expression of the women carrying Mxenge’s casket as “powerful and strong,” not downtrodden.


“I think it’s important for people to realize that the changes that have come to South Africa in recent years have not come from the goodness of the hearts of the nationalists, including (President Frederik W.) de Klerk, but have come because of the struggles of the people--those in South Africa who have died for the cause, and people in (the United States) and other Western countries who have refused to support apartheid by divesting their money.”

What: “Apartheid No!” and “Southern Africa: The Struggle Continues.”

When: Saturday, Aug. 31, through Oct. 13. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Where: Fullerton Museum Center, 301 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: Orange (57) Freeway to Chapman Avenue exit. Drive west to Pomona Avenue (one block past Lemon Street) and turn left.

Wherewithal: Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for students and senior citizens.

Where to call: (714) 738-6545.