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Calvin Dondo: New German Family 2006

Monique Pelser
13 October 2012

Review by Monique Pelser

Calvin Dondo (born 1963 in Harare, Zimbabwe)
New German Family 2006
60.2 x 3x 85 cm
Digital Inkjet print

Calvin Dondo spent time living with families in Germany who had adopted African children.  He photographed them when they were young and new to the family and then over the past few years has returned to the families to re-photograph them.  In this image he has captured two children who are dressed in traditional German clothing, in lederhosen.  This is an inversion of the expected image of ‘the African’ dressed in traditional wear.  The image is about and the kind of layered, mixed cultural identity that has developed in diaspora the world over. 
The young boy and his sister are centered in the frame, as full body portraits and Dondo has taken the photograph horizontally rather than vertically. The image sits firmly in the tradition of formal anthropological portraiture, in the manner that the children are arranged to create a composition, the girl clasping her hands and both facing the camera so that the viewer can get a good look at their faces.  It captures the boy at a time in his life where he is much shorter than his sister but having her sit on the stool they are the rendered the same height.  The relationship between the two figures is strong and one questions whether they are biological siblings. 
Dondo’s photograph is absurd.  The young children, representing a new emerging, vital generation dressed up in an old fashioned traditional outfit representational of a country with a history which is deeply problematic and seeped in a history of ethnic cleaning and radical racism. This absurdity confirms homogeneity and the idea of the Western Parent Figure. 

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