Born in Namibia, Margaret Courtney-Clarke spent her formative years studying art and photography in South Africa. She has spent the past four decades working on assignments and projects across Italy, the United States as well as across her home continent. In 2009, she returned to work and live in Namibia, turning her lens onto her lifelong interest in the notion of ‘shelter’.
LensCulture published a thought-provoking interview with Courtney-Clarke in 2019, and once again recognized her work with a Critics’ Choice Award in 2022. Here, she talks about the work that just won the award:
This is an ongoing project on the use of constraining, protecting and demarcating cages across Namibia.
A seven-year drought has stripped the Namib Desert to the bone. The wide terrain—a land where nomadic Bushmen and animals used to move freely—is a land now fenced. A land constrained. Poultry are protected from predators, but other less likely candidates are also restrained: a puppy, two cats in a cage atop a pink tin bath, a dog and a donkey locked into parallel planes—both incarcerated in their roles as beasts of burden—one for humans, the other for its litter.
Welwitschia mirabilis, endemic to the Namib desert and known as living fossils, are penned too, as part of the Gobabeb Training and Research projects to study pollination, but also to protect them from roving horses hungry for nourishment in an environment devoid of much else.
A caged stone draws attention to the absent grass its enclosure was meant to protect from such herbivores. A rain gauge, its vertical geometry stark against the relentless horizontal plateau, has been inactive for years. The Spitzkoppe granite mountains rise up from the plains of the desert—a sacred space.