The exhibition comprises postmortem portraits of unclaimed deceased from the Johannesburg Forensic Services, executed in several mediums.

  • 03 May 2024 - 19 May 2024
  • Park Gallery

The exhibition comprises postmortem portraits of unclaimed deceased from the Forensic Pathology Services (Johannesburg), executed in several mediums: including an oil paint-on-glass animation, a series of 3D digital models, and a series of 2D oil paint-on-glass digital prints. The exhibition aims, on the one hand, to present a final portrait of an anonymous individual, and to leave an indelible trace of their existence. On the other hand, it aims to acknowledge the commemorative and transcendental roles of the traditions of the final portrait. While the portrayal of the dead is inevitably contentious, artists have long been working in this field of representing one of the very few constants we can understand as being a condition of life.

The images presented are not accurate portrayals of the dead. Death is veiled either via a creative response in oil paint or through the distancing effect of white digital clay, as opposed to the gruesome truth of a forensic photograph. This is not to say that viewers will not find the imagery troubling. The point is not to gloss over the tragedy of the unclaimed deceased but to present it in a way that is visually accessible and gives the viewer pause for reflection. The images have been fashioned with an acute awareness producing this work brings into tension the duty to the corpse, and the desire to hold onto a tangible memory or a visible trace. 

The project has a formal association with the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) “Missing and Deceased Migrant Project”. South Africa is one of the primary countries for migrants from Eastern and Southern Africa and beyond to enter. The journey can be extremely dangerous and traumatic, often involving violations of fundamental human rights. Many migrants lose their lives, often disappearing without a trace. Not knowing what has happened to their loved ones profoundly affects the families who are left behind. In this regard, the ICRC’s project aims to prevent migrants from disappearing, to restore and maintain contact with relatives. This exhibition aims to highlight this tragedy and the ICRC initiative. 

Acknowledgement: The source photographs used as reference for these artworks were taken by and are copyrighted to forensic photographer Tracey Reindorp.

Peter Stewart - sound composition for the animation, Undying Faces

Limo Velapi - 3D rendering and movement  for Death Mask 1,2 and 3.

Opening Night Speaker: Angela Shaw (KZNSA Executive Director)

You can read Angela Shaw's opening speech here.


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Gallery   Tues–Fri 09.00-17.00 | Sat 09.00-16.00 | Sun 09.00-15.00

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