Naked walls adorned only with nails. A desolate student library, chairs tucked neatly under desks, a ghoulish sculpture wrapped head to toe in cloth at its centre. An empty thousand-seat lecture theatre, decaying in the aftermath of an arson attack. The charred remains of paintings and photographs laid to rest like dismembered body parts. Rooms and corridors empty, the lights left on.
The scenes are unnerving – a series of photographs evoking post-apocalyptic stillness but shot in black-and-white, suggesting that we might be looking back in time. Each image, tightly framed, appears as if it could be a forensic clue in a murder mystery. Disoriented, the viewer wonders what has happened here. When were these photographs taken?
David Goldblatt’s Structures (Student Protests) constitutes his final critique of his native South Africa, before his death in June 2018. The works formed part of the photographer’s two international retrospectives in 2018, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year, and currently (until 3 March 2019) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia.
Structures (Student Protests) conveys the state of affairs in South African universities over a period of two particularly turbulent years (2015–2016) when students across the country were protesting for the decolonisation of higher education under the hashtags #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall, birthing the Fallism movement.