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An African American artist’s “remixing” of apartheid-era images is raising questions about appropriation | Quartz Africa Wandering around this year’s Johannesburg Arts Fair in September, photographer Graeme Williams stopped dead in front of a familiar image. The photograph of black South African children marching past a tank of white police officers was his—except that it wasn’t.

Hank Willis Thomas, Graeme Williams, South African Art, KINDR'D Magazine, KINDR'D, Willoughby Avenue, KOLUMN Magazine, KOLUMN



The image had been recreated by African American conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas as part of his series History Doesn’t Laugh. Days later, acclaimed anti-apartheid photographer Peter Magubane learned that his work had also been repurposed by Thomas. The incident threatened to overshadow the three-day art fair and continues to fuel a debate around appropriation, free speech and the power dynamics at play in the creative spaces between South Africa and the United States.

“It’s a dangerous moment when we start we to tell people what they can and can’t talk about, what they can and can’t focus on when they’re making art,” Thomas told CBS News (video) last week. “Censorship was one of the critical tools of the apartheid government and oppressive regime.”

Williams told The Guardian newspaper that Willis’ recreation of his photograph amounted to “theft and appropriation,” because it had barely been changed nor had he been informed of its use. The photographer was further shocked by the $36,000 price tag.


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KOLUMN Magazine celebrates the lives of People of Color by giving our world texture.

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