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A series about family history and the diverging paths of life by lens-based artist Thero Makepe. Born and raised in Gaborone, Botswana, Makepe lives and works between Gaborone, Cape Town, and Johannesburg. His work examines familial, social, and geopolitical histories in South Africa and Botswana. Drawing on archival material (both public and private), Makepe explores the space between collective and personal memory, paying particular attention to his own maternal lineage.

Makepe’s grandfather, Hippolytus Mothopeng, fled South Africa in 1958 to escape racist apartheid law. At the time Botswana was a far more peaceful country under British protection. Hippolytus was able to work as a town clerk and a hobbyist jazz musician. Hippolytus’s uncle, Zephaniah Mothopeng, stayed in South Africa, becoming an activist and eventually the president of the Pan-African Congress of Azania (PAC). As a prominent leader, Zephania served two separate jail sentences on Robben Island.

While making near-opposite decisions (to become a civilian vs a rebel), on June 14th 1985 the South African Defence Force (SADF) crossed into Botswana with the intention of exterminating South African exiles. Makepe’s grandparents survived the attack but the events of that day remained vivid in their minds. In “We Didn’t Choose to be Born Here,” Makepe recreates this and other moments — bringing together family photographs and reenacted portraits as a way of grappling with the discrepancies within his family. Ultimately, Makepe celebrates the lasting kinship of his maternal family despite the effects of politics, resistance, history, migration, loss and separation they endured. See more from “We Didn’t Choose to be Born Here” below!

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