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Indigenous Footprint: An exhibition of photographs that contributes to a new narrative

by | Oct 29, 2021

The stories and histories of indigenous people have been ignored from our mainstream national narrative for too long. Koena Art Institute, a non-profit organisation, is stepping in to help change this with its commitment to preserving the history and heritage of the Khoena [previously and incorrectly known as the Khoi] and the San people. Through creative mediums, Koena Art Institute celebrates the diverse cultures of Southern Africa and fosters a community of openness, tolerance and generosity.

This weekend Shamiel Albertyn’s exhibition of photographs, Indigenous Footprint, will open at the gallery in Cape Town.

By focusing on people who have historically been silenced, Koena Art Institute revives the art, ideas and stories of Khoena and San people through contemporary art. In addition to selling and housing art, the gallery hosts exhibitions by local artists, offers music and language classes as well as offering culture exchange programmes.

Shamiel who is a Cape Town-based documentary photographer and cinematographer, is focussed on the lives of indigenous peoples. About four years ago, he was working on a documentary about the Khoena and the San people in the Northern Cape and as he travelled through the area, he took mobile phone photographs of the people and his surroundings. He had to report the alcohol and drug abuse in the area and found this representation harmful. “I want to help change the narrative”, says Shamiel who is now showcasing the beauty of the people and their culture through the sharing of their stories.

Shamiel grew up in the cape flats in Athlone during Apartheid. His love for photography started in the mid-80s when he received his first camera as a gift. Due to the political situation at the time, he didn’t get professional training. And so he began his career taking photos of his friends.

Later, he learnt technical skills from his uncle who is also a photographer. With his uncle, he began to play with film and use a dark room. He took photos of life during Apartheid, highlighting the struggles and activism.

Although photography is his first love, he also works as a cinematographer, creating documentaries on many different subjects.

Indigenous Footprint project grew out of his collection of photographs that he took during his travels. Unplanned, the project became a learning experience for him. In this way, “I became the student”, says Shamiel, realising he has a lot to learn from other cultures. “I always say you’re never too old to learn something”, he adds. This experience humbled him; seeing people content without the comfort and privilege he is accustomed to. It put into perspective the joy of a simple lifestyle.

To him, this experience taught him that fancy equipment is not necessary, “if you love photography, you can use anything” he says.

The whole idea is using education to empower people

Shamiel hopes for people to be enlightened by his exhibition and that they leave with a better understanding and appreciation for the Khoena and San cultures. Although he is proud and happy with his final collection, he would love to revisit the project and retake the photos using better equipment to capture the finer details that his phone camera left out.


  • Photographs featured here are part of the exhibition which opens on Saturday, 30 October, at Koena Art Institute’s gallery, 42 Trill Road, Observatory at 6pm
  • The exhibition will remain up for a week
  • Follow Koena Art Institution Instagram @koena_art_institute
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