Posts Tagged ‘South African art

26
Apr
16

Exhibition: ‘Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind’ at SCA Galleries, Sydney College of the Arts, Sydney

Exhibition dates: 16th March – 7th May 2016

 

Roger Ballen. 'Caged' 2011

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Caged
2011
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

 

Taken as a whole, the artist Roger Ballen’s body of work is exceptionally strong. From his early documentary series Dorps (1986) and Platteland (1996) which featured alienated and poverty poverty stricken whites in South Africa struggling with their place in the world after Apartheid; through my favourite series Outland (2001), Shadow Chamber (2005) and Boarding House (2009) which portrayed down and out whites on the fringe of South African society in a surrealist, performative art; to the more recent Animal Abstraction (2011), I Fink U Freeky (2013) and Asylum of the Birds (2014) … through each of these series you can trace the development of this preternatural artist, whose work seems to exist almost beyond nature itself.

The move from documentary photographer to director / collaborator / actor / observer was critical to the development of Ballen’s art. As the text on the Outland web page on Roger Ballen’s website states, “Where previously his pictures, however troubling, fell firmly into the category of documentary photography, these pictures move into the realms of fiction. Ballen’s characters act out dark and discomfiting tableaux, providing images which are exciting and disturbing in equal measure. One is forced to wonder whether they are exploited victims, colluding directly in their own ridicule, or newly empowered and active participants within the drama of their representation.” From the videos included in this posting, it is obvious that the latter statement is the correct interpretation. Through this thematic development, the viewer may come to understand the nature of the artist’s collaboration with the people, places and things that he photographs. The empathy that these photographs and videos evidence, the interchangeable director/actor roles, and the connection that he has with his subject matter gives insight into the compassion of this man. He never judges anyone. He accepts them for who they are and works with them to create these challenging art works.

Apparently these photographs, “have a singular ability to cause disquiet to the viewer.” Personally, they have never caused me disquiet for I find them quite fascinating. They follow on from a long line of photographers who have observed the marginalised in society, from the circus freak show photographs, through Diane Arbus and Arthur Tress (who also has a book called Theater of the Mind) to Joel Peter-Witkin and Roger Ballen. Much like the earlier Robert Frank’s seminal book The Americans, which featured an outsider photographing a world from a different point of view, Ballen moved to South Africa from America in 1982 and has never fully lost that outsider status. As John McDonald observes, “He has been there long enough to be an insider, but retains the probing eye of an outsider, able to see a side of life that native-born can’t see, or don’t wish to see.” And that is the point: all of these artists, with their probing eyes, can perceive difference and accept it on its own terms. They portray the world through a horizontal consciousness (an equal “living field” if you like), not a hierarchical system of privilege, power and control, where some are better, more worthy than others.

But what nature is he investigating? Is it human nature and its ability to survive under the most dire circumstances? Is it the nature of the relationship of the body to its environment, or the human to animals, or the relationship between our souls and our subconscious? It’s all of these and more. Ballen probes these nexus, the strands that connect and link our lives together: our dreams, nightmares and desires. His photographs act as a form of binding together, bringing the periphery of society into the centre (of attention). He creates an extant reality in which we are asked to question: how do we feel towards these people and how do we feel about our own lives?

He achieves this creation through the use of what I call “heightened awareness” – both situationally and subconsciously. Ballen is fully aware and receptive towards the conditions of his environment and his dreams. Instead of a desire to possess the object of his longing and then to be possessed by that desire (desire to possess / possessed by desire) Ballen has learnt, as Krishnamurti did, not to make images out of every word, out of every vision and desire. Ballen understands that he must be attentive to the clarity of not making images – of desire, of prejudice, of flattery – because only then might you become aware of the world that surrounds us, just for what it is and nothing more. He accepts what he can create and what is given to him by being fully aware. Then you are sensitive to every occasion, it brings its own right action.1 His images become a blend of the space of intimacy and world-space as he strains toward, “communion with the universe, in a word, space, the invisible space that man can live in nevertheless, and which surrounds him with countless presences.”2

His photographs become an enveloping phenomenon in which the viewer is draped in their affect… this ‘wearing of images’ is both magical and all encompassing.

We are the people in his pictures. We are their dreams.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. Concepts from KrishnamurtiBeginnings of Learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978, pp. 130-131.
  2. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. (trans Maria Jolas). Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p. xxxv.

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Many thankx to SCA Galleries for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Archetypal levels of the deeper subconscious pervade my photographs… When I create my photographs I often travel deep into my own interior, a place where dreams and many of my images originate. I see my photographs as mirrors, reflectors, connectors into the mind… The light comes from the dark.”

 

“These pictures are a very complex way of seeing, a very complex way of viewing the world and you know perhaps this went back to the time I was in my mother’s stomach… I can’t really say what exactly is the primary cause of what I do.”

 

“So the thing is is my pictures, my better pictures or a lot of my pictures, embed themselves deeply in the subconscious, because the mind isn’t ready for those photographs, they don’t have any corresponding experience in some way or another, so the pictures tend to have more of an impact on the person’s deeper mind than something we would normally think of as disturbing because the pictures get into the mind. People aren’t used to having things get in there and stay in there and threaten their image of themselves in some way or another and so that’s why they call them disturbing, they’re not actually disturbing a better way of saying it is that if somebody has some kind of consciousness they’re actually enlightening.”

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Roger Ballen

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Ballen’s Asylum of the Birds (full film)

To mark the publication of his long-awaited new monograph Asylum of the Birds, photographer Roger Ballen, with director Ben Crossman, has produced this psychologically powerful, unforgettable film that follows Roger into a world synonymous with his photographs, as never before seen on film.

 

 

 

 

Roger Ballen’s Outland (2015)

Phaidon Press has released a revised version of the iconic book Outland by photographer Roger Ballen. Film maker Ben Jay Crossman takes us on a journey to the Outland to show us the mind inside the mind.

 

 

 

 

 

ROGER BALLEN: PHOTOGRAPHS 1982-2009 Part 3: Outland

Roger Ballen talks about his past projects leading up to his current work in the celebrated exhibition ROGER BALLEN: PHOTOGRAPHS 1982-2009, on display at George Eastman House from Feb. 27 – June 6, 2010. Hear more from the curator of the exhibition, Eastman House director Dr. Anthony Bannon, discussing Ballen’s work in ‘Embracing Difficult Art’

 

 

His raw, black & white images are alluring, fascinating and disturbing. He is one of the most important and exciting photographers of the 21st century. The intriguing work of Roger Ballen is coming to Australia, to Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), this March in the artist’s first major Sydney exhibition. Staged to coincide with the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind is a provocative exhibition of 75 contemporary works created by the artist over the last two decades.

Professor Colin Rhodes, Dean of the University of Sydney’s contemporary art school and curator of the exhibition, said: “For a long time Roger Ballen’s photography has trodden a path where others are too timid to tread, toying with our innermost dreams, nightmares and desires. The raw, atmospheric exhibition spaces at Sydney College of the Arts [the site of the former Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital] are the ideal setting to articulate this core aspect of Ballen’s work.”

Born in New York in 1950, Ballen has lived in Johannesburg since the 1970s. His work as a geologist took him across the countryside and led him to explore, through the camera lens, the smaller South African towns. His early photographs of the hidden lives of people living on the fringes of society made considerable impact, receiving acclaim from American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag among others.

Through the medium of black and white photography, Ballen has achieved a unique integration of drawing, painting and installation that have been compared to the masters of art brut. His peculiar and somewhat shocking imagery confronts the viewer and drags them into the work. Viewers are participants in the work – not merely observers – taking them on a journey into the recesses of their minds, as Ballen explores his own.

Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind consists of five sections that see people, birds, animal and inanimate subjects become the ‘cast’ in an exhibition that is hard-hitting, psychological theatre. The Sydney exhibition includes a new installation work created onsite at SCA by Ballen in response to the site’s mental health history, in the labyrinth of underground cells of the former Rozelle hospital.

The show includes Ballen’s award-winning music video ‘I Fink U Freeky’ (2012) by South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord, which has received over 76 million hits on YouTube and earned a cult following. In addition, the public will be able to access his equally remarkable video works Outland and Asylum of the Birds.

The worldwide impact of Ballen’s work was celebrated in major retrospective exhibition at Washington DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of African Art from 2013 to 2014. It was this exhibition that drove Rhodes’ interest to bring Ballen’s work to Australia.

“When I first saw Ballen’s work en masse, I was struck by the role of drawing in his photos and what seemed to me a relationship with Art Brut or Outsider Art. The artist’s interest in and knowledge of Outsider Art is a key part of understanding the growth of Ballen’s identity as an international artist,” said Professor Rhodes.

Roger Ballen will present a public talk in Sydney at SCA on 9 March, ahead of the official opening of his Sydney exhibition on Tuesday 15 March. Roger Ballen’s Theatre of the Mind is showing at SCA Galleries from 16 March to 7 May 2016. A 96-page book will accompany the exhibition featuring Ballen’s photography and an essay by Professor Rhodes.

Press release from SCA Galleries

 

Roger Ballen. 'Bewitched' 2012

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Bewitched
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Untitled' 2015

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Untitled
2015
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Twirling Wires' 2001

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Twirling Wires
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Mirrored' 2012

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Mirrored
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

 

Ballen has no qualms about creating dramatic scenarios in his search for “archetypal” symbols that speak to the viewer’s subconscious. He began as a documentary photographer but over the years his pictures have become filled with drawings, paintings and sculptural brac-a-brac, created by the artist himself, or by his subjects. In works such as Collision (2005) or Deathbed (2010), there are no figures, but the human presence is implied by a face drawn on a pillow or the broken head of a doll. The walls in both photos are covered in crude drawings and dirty marks – signs of previous occupation…

[Ballen] argues that these images are primarily psychological, not sociological. He wants to address that deep, dark part of the mind that Freud called “the Id”. As a concept it’s more poetic than biological – a shared repository of instinctive drives that remains buried under the trappings of civilisation…

Despite the extreme nature of her work, Diane Arbus remained within the documentary tradition, whereas a figure such as Joel-Peter Witkin constructs his own theatrical tableaux in the studio. Ballen’s work is somewhere between these two poles. The subjects of his photographs are society’s misfits, but his approach is shamelessly theatrical. His figures are not posing passively, they are collaborating with someone who has won their trust, creating a form of ad hoc performance art in bare, filthy rooms…

It’s more interesting to ask what Ballen feels when he enters such environments. To take these photos he has immersed himself in a world of violence and madness. If he has built up a rapport with his subjects it is by treating them not as freaks, but as people with their own sense of dignity. He refuses to buy into conventional distinctions about what is normal and abnormal, presumably as a legacy of his early exposure to the counterculture and the anti-psychiatry movement.

John McDonald. “Roger Ballen,” on the John McDonald website April 7, 2016 [Online] Cited 25/04/2016

 

Roger Ballen. 'Lunchtime' 2001

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Lunchtime
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Take off' 2012

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Take off
2012
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Cat and Mouse' 2001

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Cat and Mouse
2001
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'School Room' 2003

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
School Room
2003
Image courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery

 

Roger Ballen. 'Portrait of sleeping girl' 2000

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Portrait of sleeping girl
2000

 

Roger Ballen. 'Deathbed' 2010

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Deathbed
2010

 

Roger Ballen. 'Three hands' 2006

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Three hands
2006

 

Roger Ballen. 'Head inside shirt' 2001

 

Roger Ballen (South African born America, b. 1950)
Head inside shirt
2001

 

 

SCA Galleries
Sydney College of the Arts (University of Sydney)
Kirkbride Way, off Balmain Road, Lilyfield (enter opposite Cecily Street)
Phone: +61 2 9351 1008

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday, 11am – 5pm
Saturday, 11am – 4pm (during exhibitions)

SCA Galleries website

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24
Jun
14

Exhibition: ‘Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa’ at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Exhibition dates: 21st February – 29th June 2014

Exhibition artists

Public Intimacy presents

  • Photography by Ian Berry, Ernest Cole, David Goldblatt, Terry Kurgan, Sabelo Mlangeni, Santu Mofokeng, Billy Monk, Zanele Muholi, Lindeka Qampi, Jo Ractliffe, and Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
  • Video works by William Kentridge, Donna Kukama, Anthea Moys, and Berni Searle
  • Painting and sculpture by Nicholas Hlobo and Penny Siopis
  • Puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company
  • Publications, prints, graphic works, and public interventions by Chimurenga, ijusi (Garth Walker), Anton Kannemeyer, and Cameron Platter
  • Performances by Athi-Patra Ruga, Kemang Wa Lehulere, and Sello Pesa and Vaughn Sadie with Ntsoana Contemporary Dance Theatre

 

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Opening Song, Hand Clapping and Bells' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng (South Africa, 1956-2020)
Opening Song, Hand Clapping and Bells
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

 

Continuing my fascination with South African art and photography, here is another exhilarating collection of work from an exhibition jointly arranged between SFMOMA and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. This art has so much joy, life, movement and “colour”. I particularly like The Future White Women of Azania series by Athi-Patra Ruga, who presented his work at the 55th Venice Biennale in the African pavilion. Thank god not another rehashed colonial image, even though he is working with the tropes of myth and the history of Africa as a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era.

Marcus

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Many thankx to SFMOMA and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for allowing me to publish the installation photographs in the posting. Most of the other photographs were gathered from the internet. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“Disrupting expected images of South Africa, the 25 contemporary artists and collectives featured in Public Intimacy eloquently explore the poetics and politics of the everyday. This collaboration with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents pictures from SFMOMA’s collection of South African photography alongside works in a broad range of media, including video, painting, sculpture, performance, and publications – most made in the last five years, and many on view for the first time on the West Coast. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, Public Intimacy reveals the nuances of human interaction in a country still undergoing significant change, vividly showing public life there in a more complex light.”

Text from the SFMOMA website

 

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Leading in Song, Johannesburg - Soweto Line' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng (South Africa, 1956-2020)
Leading in Song, Johannesburg – Soweto Line
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Hands in Worship, Johannesburg - Soweto Line' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng (South Africa, 1956-2020)
Hands in Worship, Johannesburg – Soweto Line
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

 

These images, by the South African photographer Santu Mofokeng, ostensibly depict scenes of segregated transport during apartheid. Yet in their composition they evoke something more: the rhythms and textures of everyday life. Taken from within and among a crowd of commuters, the pictures seem to sway with the velocity of the train carriage. Shards of light blur the edges of figures, interplaying with shifting shadows as passengers move in unison. Titled “Train Church,” Mofokeng’s series was made during a few weeks in 1986, and in South Africa it became veritably synonymous with his name. Mofokeng, who died in January, at the age of sixty-three, was a photographer whose body of work – both images and text – waded through themes of history and land, memory and spirituality, and helped shape the course of South African photography.

Oluremi C. Onabanjo. “How Santu Mofokeng Shaped South African Photography,” on The New Yorker website February 24, 2020 [Online] Cited 10/04/2021.

 

Santu Mofokeng. 'Supplication, Johannesburg - Soweto Line' 1986

 

Santu Mofokeng (South Africa, 1956-2020)
Supplication, Johannesburg – Soweto Line
1986
From the series Train Church
Pigment print
9 13/16 x 13 3/4 in. (25 x 35cm)
© Santu Mofokeng

 

Ian Berry. 'Guests at a 'moffie'drag party' Cape Town, South Africa, 1960

 

Ian Berry (British, b. 1934)
Guests at a ‘moffie’drag party
Cape Town, South Africa, 1960
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Ian Berry was born in Lancashire, England. He made his reputation in South Africa, where he worked for the Daily Mail and later for Drum magazine. He was the only photographer to document the massacre at Sharpeville in 1960, and his photographs were used in the trial to prove the victims’ innocence.

He moved to South Africa in 1952, where he soon taught himself photography. He worked under the tutelage of Roger Madden, a South African photographer who had been an assistant to Ansel Adams. After some time as an amateur photographer, Berry began photographing communities and weddings. During this period he met Jürgen Schadeberg, also a European immigrant and photographer. Schadeberg was offered a position with the new African Sunday newspaper eGoli but declined, suggesting Berry apply for the position instead. After working there only 10 months, the newspaper closed, and Berry began working for the Benoni City Times, but he soon became more interested in freelance work.

Berry returned to Great Britain and traveled for some time but returned to South Africa in the early 1960s and worked for the Daily Mail. Later Tom Hopkinson, previously editor of the British Picture Post, hired Berry to work for Drum magazine. He was in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960, when a peaceful protest turned violent, leading to the deaths of 69 people and the wounding of 178 others by police. There were no other photographs documenting the events, and Berry’s were entered into evidence in the court proceedings proving that the victims had done nothing wrong. Berry was invited by Henri Cartier-Bresson to join Magnum Photos in 1962 when he was based in Paris; five years later he became a full member. In 1964 he moved to London and began working for Observer Magazine. He has since traveled the globe, documenting social and political strife in China, Republic of Congo, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Israel, Ireland, Vietnam, and the former Soviet Union. He has contributed to publications including Esquire, Fortune, Geo, Life, National Geographic, Paris-Match, and Stern.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 30 September 1967' 1967, printed 2011

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 30 September 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
10 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (25.56 x 37.94 cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 5 February 1968' 1968, printed 2011

 

Billy Monk
The Catacombs, 5 February 1968
1968, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

 

William John Monk (died 31 July 1982) was a South African, known for his photographs of a Cape Town nightclub between 1967 and 1969, during apartheid. In 2012 a posthumous book was published, Billy Monk: Nightclub Photographs. …

When Monk’s work as a bouncer did not work out he took up photography. Still working in The Catacombs, he began to make his living taking pictures of the diverse clientele in a seedy bar. He used a Pentax camera, with a 35 mm focal-length lens, a small flash and Ilford FP4 film. Monk stopped taking pictures in 1969. His photographs show a variety of the underbelly of Cape Town life at the time – ranging from old men with young wives and gay couples, to midgets and mixed race relationships, he shows a side of life under apartheid that is rarely seen elsewhere.

 

Discovery of his work

Monk’s work was discovered in 1979 by Jac de Villiers, when he moved into Monk’s old studio. Not only were they already well constructed by the photographer, they were also impeccably annotated with dates and names, which made curation a simple and enjoyable process. The first exhibition of Monk’s work took place at the Market Gallery in Johannesburg in 1982 – and although Monk could not attend the event it was subject to much critical acclaim.

 

Apartheid

Monk was working during apartheid in South Africa – a time when the colour of your skin was indicative of where you could live, work, who you could marry, and where you could drink. The underground lifestyle of The Catacombs allowed for dissent. Monk chose to take pictures originally as a way of making money, by selling them to his clients.

His photographs reveal a variety of clientele. Some are sloppy, some are neat and put together. Many of the women are heavily made up with short dresses, and almost all the photographs are highly sexually charged. The photographs reveal much of what was not allowed under apartheid rule – specifically a variety of same sex and mixed race couples.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Nomonde Mbusi, Berea, Johannesburg' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South Africa, b. 1972)
Nomonde Mbusi, Berea, Johannesburg
2007
From the Faces and Phases series
Gelatin silver print
23 13/16 in. x 34 1/16 in. (60.5 cm x 86.5cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Zanele Muholi

 

 

Zanele Muholi, born 1972

Muholi’s work addresses the reality of what it is to be LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) in South Africa. She identifies herself as a visual activist, dealing with issues of violation, violence and prejudice that she and her community face, despite South Africa’s progressive constitution.

In Faces and Phases, she sets out to give visibility to black lesbians and to celebrate the distinctiveness of individuals through the traditional genre of portraiture. The portraits are taken outdoors with a hand-held camera to retain spontaneity and often shown in a grid to highlight difference and diversity. In the series Beulahs, she shows young gay men, wearing Zulu beads and other accessories usually worn by women, who invert normative gender codes in both costume and pose. At the same time her photographs evoke tourist postcards and recycled stereotypes of Africans and recall traditional anthropological and ethnographic iconography.

Faces and Phases, is a group of black and white portraits that I have been working on from 2006 until now – it has become a lifetime project. The project is about me, the community that I’m part of. I was born in the township: I grew up in that space. Most of us grew up in a household where heterosexuality was the norm. When you grow up, you think that the only thing that you have to become as a maturing girl or woman is to be with a man; you have to have children, and also you need to have lobola or “bride price” paid for you. For young men, the expectation for them is to be with women and have wives and procreate: that’s the kind of space which most of us come from. We are seen as something else by society – we are seen as deviants. We’re not going to be here forever, and I wanted to make sure that we leave a history that is tangible to people who come after us.”

Zanele Muholi, interviewed by Tamar Garb, South Africa, 2010.
Text from the V & A website

 

David Goldblatt. 'Woman smoking, Fordsburg, Johannesburg' 1975

 

David Goldblatt (South Africa, 1930-2018)
Woman smoking, Fordsburg, Johannesburg
1975
Pigment inkjet print
23 5/8 in. x 29 1/2 in. (60 cm x 75cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© David Goldblatt

 

 

David Goldblatt HonFRPS (29 November 1930 – 25 June 2018) was a South African photographer noted for his portrayal of South Africa during the period of apartheid. After apartheid had ended he concentrated more on the country’s landscapes. What differentiates Goldblatt’s body of work from those of other anti-apartheid artists is that he photographed issues that went beyond the violent events of apartheid and reflected the conditions that led up to them. His forms of protest have a subtlety that traditional documentary photographs may lack: “[M]y dispassion was an attitude in which I tried to avoid easy judgments. … This resulted in a photography that appeared to be disengaged and apolitical, but which was in fact the opposite.”

 

 

Jointly organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa brings together 25 artists and collectives who disrupt expected images of a country known through its apartheid history. The exhibition features an arc of artists who look to the intimate encounters of daily life to express the poetics and politics of the “ordinary act,” with work primarily from the last five years as well as photographic works that figure as historical precedents. On view at YBCA February 21 through June 29, 2014, Public Intimacy presents more than 200 works in a wide range of mediums, many of them making U.S. or West Coast debuts.

The exhibition joins SFMOMA’s important and growing collection of South African photography with YBCA’s multidisciplinary purview and continued exploration of the Global South. Significant documentary photography is paired with new photographs and work in other mediums, including video, painting, sculpture, performance, and publications, to reveal the multifaceted nuances of everyday life in a country still undergoing significant change. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, Public Intimacy looks at the way artists imagine present and future possibilities in South Africa. A new orientation emerges through close-up views of street interactions, portraiture, fashion and costume, unfamiliar public actions, and human imprints on the landscape.

The exhibition’s three curators – Betti-Sue Hertz, director of visual arts at YBCA; Frank Smigiel, associate curator of public programs at SFMOMA; and Dominic Willsdon, Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Programs at SFMOMA – developed the show after visits to South Africa, where they met with artists, curators, and critics. The exhibition – and a companion publication to be published in fall 2014 – grew out of this research.

“Although South Africa’s political history remains vital to these artists and is important for understanding their work, Public Intimacy offers a more subtle view of the country through personal moments,” said Hertz. “It goes against expectations in order to reveal the smaller gestures and illuminate how social context has affected artists and how they work.”

“The familiar image of contemporary South Africa as a place of turmoil is, of course, not the whole story,” added Willsdon. “The art in this exhibition restages how those violent incidents fit in the broader realm of human interactions – a way of showing public life there in a more complex light.”

“Another central aspect of the exhibition is live performance,” said Smigiel. “Three major live works will unfold both in and outside the gallery context, offering a way to situate and reframe San Francisco through the lens of what artists are producing in South Africa.”

Public Intimacy is part of SFMOMA’s collaborative museum exhibitions and extensive off-site programming taking place while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction through early 2016. As neighbours across Third Street in San Francisco, YBCA and SFMOMA have partnered in the past on various performance and exhibition projects, but Public Intimacy represents the deepest collaboration of shared interests to date between the two institutions. It also brings together SFMOMA’s approach to curating live art and YBCA’s multidisciplinary interest in exhibitions, social practice, and performances.

 

Exhibition highlights

While the exhibition explores new approaches to daily life in post-apartheid South Africa, it also makes visible the continued commitment of artists to activism and contemporary politics. Beginning with photographs from the late 1950s and after, the exhibition includes vital moments in the country’s documentary photography – from Ian Berry’s inside look at an underground drag ball to Billy Monk’s raucous nightclub photos – each capturing a moment of celebration within different social strata of South African society. Ernest Cole’s photographs of miners’ hostels and bars and Santu Mofokeng’s stirring photographs of mobile churches on commuter trains reveal everyday moments both tender and harsh.

David Goldblatt’s photographs depict the human landscape in apartheid and after, providing the genesis of the idea of “public intimacy.” Over decades of photographs in urban, suburban, and rural locations, Goldblatt has chronicled the changing nature of interpersonal engagement in South Africa. At the same time, they provide a historical backdrop and visual precedent for other artists in the exhibition, including Zanele Muholi and Sabelo Mlangeni.

Muholi has won several awards for her powerful photographic portraits as well as her activism on behalf of black lesbians in South Africa. Although best known for her photographs – in particular her Faces and Phases series – Muholi continuously experiments with an expanded practice including documentary film, beadwork, text, and her social-action organisation Inkanyiso, which gives visibility to conditions facing lesbians of colour in her country. “Sexual politics has been looked at less than racial politics in South Africa, but in many ways, the two have always been intertwined,” said Willsdon.

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse bring another perspective to the upheavals of life in the city of Johannesburg with works from their Ponte City (2008-10) series, comprised of photographs, video, and a publication offering various views of this centrally located and iconic 54-story building. The works illustrate the struggles facing many native and immigrant South Africans in the years following the dissolution of apartheid, including stalled economic growth and social opportunities.

In contrast to the daily realities pictured in photographic works in the exhibition, Athi-Patra Ruga’s ongoing performance series The Future White Women of Azania (2010-present) features fantastical characters – usually played by the artist – whose upper bodies sprout colourful balloons while their lower bodies pose or process in stockings and high heels. Ruga’s Azania is a changing utopia, and Smigiel notes the shift: “The balloons are filled with liquid, and as the figure moves through the streets, they start popping, so the character dissolves and reveals a performer, and the liquid spills out and into a rather sloppy line drawing.” A new iteration of the series, The Elder of Azania, will premiere in the YBCA Forum during the exhibition’s opening weekend.

Chimurenga, an editorial collective working at the intersection of pan-African culture, art, and politics produces publications, events, and installations. Founded in 2002 by Ntone Edjabe, the collective has created the Chimurenga Library, an online archiving project that profiles independent pan-African paper periodicals from around the world. Expanding upon this concept, their presence in Public Intimacy will have two elements: a text and media resource space in YBCA’s galleries and an intervention at the San Francisco Public Library main branch that will explore the history of pan-African culture in the Bay Area, scheduled to open in late May.

Providing one of the most personally vulnerable moments in the exhibition, Penny Siopis’s series of 90 small paintings on enamel, Shame (2002), provokes a visceral reaction. With red paint reminiscent of blood and bruises, Siopis mixes colour and text in an attempt to convey emotion rather than narrative. While she is interested in the guilt and embarrassment most frequently associated with shame, she also looks at the possibility for empathy that emerges from traumatic experiences.

In all of these works, explains Hertz, “We are looking at how art and activism align, but we’re also interested in how politics is embedded in less obviously political practices, such as Sabelo Mlangeni’s photographs of mining workers’ hostels, Penny Siopis’s powerful painting series about human vulnerability, or Nicholas Hlobo’s large-scale, organically shaped sculptures made primarily of rubber.

Text from the SFMOMA website

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Installation view of the exhibition 'Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa' at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

 

Installation views of the exhibition Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco with, in the last photo, Nicholas Hlobo, Umphanda ongazaliyo (installation view), 2008; rubber, ribbon, zips, steel, wood, plaster; ICA Boston; © Nicholas Hlobo; photo: John Kennar.

 

Sabelo Mlangeni. 'Couple Bheki and Sipho' 2009

 

Sabelo Mlangeni (South Africa, b. 1980)
Couple Bheki and Sipho
2009
From the series Country Girls
Gelatin silver print
40 x 30cm
Courtesy the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Sabelo Mlangeni

 

 

Figures & Fictions: Sabelo Mlangeni from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

 

Anton Kannemeyer. 'D is for dancing ministers' 2006

 

Anton Kannemeyer (South Africa, b. 1967)
D is for dancing ministers
2006
From the series Alphabet of Democracy
Lithograph on Chine Collé
22 1/16 x 24 in. (56 x 61cm)
Courtesy the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Anton Kannemeyer

 

 

Anton Kannemeyer (born 1967) is a South African comics artist, who sometimes goes by the pseudonym Joe Dog.

Anton Kannemeyer was born in Cape Town. He studied graphic design and illustration at the University of Stellenbosch, and did a Master of Arts degree in illustration after graduating. Together with Conrad Botes, he co-founded the magazine Bitterkomix in 1992 and has become revered for its subversive stance and dark humour. He has been criticised for making use of “offensive, racist imagery”. Kannemeyer himself said that he gets “lots of hate mail from white Afrikaners”.

His works challenge the rigid image of Afrikaners promoted under Apartheid, and depict Afrikaners having nasty sex and mangling their Afrikaans. “X is for Xenophobia”, part of his “Alphabet of Democracy”, depicts Ernesto Nhamwavane, a Mozambican immigrant who was burnt alive in Johannesburg in 2008. Some of Kannemeyer’s works deal with the issues of race relations and colonialism, by appropriating the style of Hergé’s comics, namely from Tintin in the Congo. In “Pappa in Afrika”, Tintin becomes a white African, depicted either as a white liberal or as a racist white imperialist in Africa. In this stereotyped satire, the whites are superior, literate and civilised, and the blacks are savage and dumb. In “Peekaboo”, a large acrylic work, the white African is jumping up in alarm as a black man figure pokes his head out of the jungle shouting an innocuous ‘peekaboo!’ A cartoon called “The Liberals” has been interpreted as an attack on white fear, bigotry and political correctness: a group of anonymous black people (who look like golliwogs) are about to rape a white lady, who calls her attackers “historically disadvantaged men”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Terry Kurgan. 'Hotel Yeoville' 2012

 

Terry Kurgan (South Africa, b. 1958)
Hotel Yeoville
2012
Digital print on bamboo hahnemulle paper
Courtesy the artist
© Terry Kurgan

 

Penny Siopis. 'Untitled' from the series 'Shame' 2002

 

Penny Siopis (South Africa, b. 1953)
Untitled from the series Shame
2002
Paint on enamel
© Penny Siopis

 

 

Siopis established herself as one of the most talented and challenging artists in South Africa and beyond, by working across painting, installation and film, bringing together diverse references and materials in ways that disturb disciplinary boundaries and binaries.

Concepts of time run through all her work often manifesting in the actual physical changes of her materials; in her early cake paintings oil paint is made to be unnaturally affected by gravity, age and decay; in her films using archival footage time is marked as much by the effects of age on the celluloid as by the historical period caught in the sweep of the camera; in her accumulations of found objects in her installations, ideas of the heirloom come to the fore with her ongoing conceptual work Will (1997- ) – in which she bequeaths objects to beneficiaries – being the ultimate time piece only becoming complete on her death; her glue and ink paintings index flux as they record the material transformation that happens when viscous glue matter reacts with pigment, gravity, the artist’s bodily gestures, and the drying effects of the air.

Siopis sees her art practice as ‘open form’, operating as an intimate model in which the physical changes of her materials can be extrapolated into a larger ethics of personal and political transformation. According to Achille Mbembe this quality marks her interest in process as a perpetual state of becoming and entails “the crafting of an unstable relation between form and formlessness, in the understanding that the process of becoming proceeds in ways that are almost always unpredictable and at times accidental.”

 

Shame paintings

Siopis began the Shame paintings in 2002 and they became a key feature of her exhibition Three Essays on Shame (2005), an intervention in the museum of Sigmund Freud, once his house, in London. It was part of a project that marked the centenary of Freud’s groundbreaking publication Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Responding to Freud, Siopis’ installation consisted of three parts located in Freud’s study (with the famous couch), dining room and bedroom and titled Voice, Gesture and Memory. The small paintings shown in a grid in this room were presented as a frieze in the Memory section of the original exhibition. The artist invokes this exhibition here through the arrangement of some of the objects from the installation on a table reminiscent of that in Freud’s dining room, where she had placed Baubo, one of Freud’s objects from his collection of antiquities. Baubo is a small terracotta figurine who gestures to her genitalia in a provocative way, an act some have interpreted as a show of shame that speaks of both vulnerability and empowerment.

In the installation Siopis also evoked a complex dialogue between Freud’s ideas and her personal experiences by inserting references (voice recordings and objects) to the traumatic proceedings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and colonial and apartheid history. Once again she was interested in binding the traces of human vulnerability and the dramatic effects of sweeping historical narratives.

In this body of work Siopis manipulates thick and gooey lacquer gel paint, used in home-craft to create stained glass and coloured mirror effects on surfaces. For her it is a physical process that moulds anxiety into form. It translates the result of childhood trauma that we know as shame onto a painted surface. Through the reflective qualities of the medium Siopis blends the bodily sensation with the experience of being looked at, both of which define shame. The use of language in the form of ready-made rubber stamped clichés that clash with the raw power of this familiar emotion further underscores the ‘unspeakable’ character of the experience.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'The Future White Women of Azania' 2012

 

Athi-Patra Ruga (South Africa, b. 1984)
The Future White Women of Azania
2012
Performed as part of Performa Obscura in collaboration with Mikhael Subotzky
Commissioned for the exhibition Making Way, Grahamstown, South Africa
Photo: Ruth Simbao, courtesy Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD/GALLERY

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'The Future White Women of Azania' 2012

 

Athi-Patra Ruga (South Africa, b. 1984)
The Future White Women of Azania
2012
Performed as part of Performa Obscura in collaboration with Mikhael Subotzky
Commissioned for the exhibition Making Way, Grahamstown, South Africa
Photo: Ruth Simbao, courtesy Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD/GALLERY

 

 

Athi-Patra Ruga (born in 1984) is a South African artist who uses performance, photography, video, textiles, and printmaking to explore notions of utopia and dystopia, material and memory. His work explores the body in relation to sensuality, culture, and ideology, often creating cultural hybrids. Themes such as sexuality, HIV/AIDS, African culture, and the place of queerness within post-apartheid South Africa also permeate his work. …

 

Future White Women of Azania (FWWoA, 2010-2016)

FWWoA consists of several works, including performance, tapestry, sculpture, video, and photography creating a saga. FWWoA is an allegory of post apartheid nationalism, where Ruga then becomes the “elder” or historian. Creating this constellationary history, drawing references from pre Xhosa history and post apartheid South Africa, tells the history of the non-dynastic line of queens who rule the lands of Azania. Ruga’s works are attentive to the demands for justice for his ancestors and the need for radical transformation in the future, to shatter the ideologies of “rainbowism”. By using Azania as the framework for a critical history of South Africa, FWWoA reveals the silencing of black voices that extends back to the first moments of colonial contact, while also addressing the impossible and unrealized ideologies of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption practiced in a post apartheid South African.

Azania’s allegorical capacity derives from its status as a symbol of a liberated South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle. However, the term has a specific history that complicates such dreams. The place name ‘Azania’ first appears in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (40 AD) to refer to the lands of southern and eastern Africa. By designating the lands of Africa as ‘Azania’, Ruga understands the label as one example in a long history of constructing Africa as uninhabited until European colonial contact.

Ruga’s tapestries in the FWWoA saga chronicles allegorical depictions of queens, maps, and other iconography of Azania. The struggles of the non-dynastic line of queens depicting signifiers of an Azanian national identity: national seal, crest, flower, maps, while also including Ruga’s long standing interest in popular culture. Taking inspirations from Gustave Eiffel’s ‘Statue of Liberty’ or Eugene Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’, Ruga brings about the idea of objectifying the woman’s body as the conflict, but in his own work creates them as powerful but passive. In his work ‘The Lands of Azania’, Ruga reworks the map of Eastern Africa. Insetting a national animal, the saber-tooth zebra, the Azanian flag, and giving several countries new names. Throughout the geography of Azania he further explores the overlaps of exile and diaspora in the African and Jewish communities.

A narrative with five characters, a national flower, crest and animal including the rainbow coloured balloon characters. One of Ahti-Patra’s goals was to make a myth accessible even for children. A cute figure that has the capacity to be festive, create fanfare yet become disquieting when it violently pops and bleeds.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'The Night of the Long Knives I' 2013



 

Athi-Patra Ruga (South Africa, b. 1984)
The Night of the Long Knives I
2013


Archival inkjet Print on Photorag Baryta
202 x 157cm

 

 

The Future White Woman of Azania is an ongoing series of performances first conceived in 2010 and evolving to engage new definitions of nationhood in relation to the autonomous body. In the enactment of the site-specific work commissioned for the 55th Venice Biennale, the performance takes the form of an absurdist funerary procession. The participants are the ABODADE – the sisterhood order of Azania and the central protagonist – The Future White Woman.

“Azania, as a geographic location, is first described in 1stCentury Greek records of navigation and trade, The Peryplus of the Erythrean Sea and is thought to refer to a portion of the East and Southern African coast. The word Azania itself is thought to have been derived from an Arabic word referring to the ‘dark-skinned inhabitants of Africa.’

Azania is then eulogised in the black consciousness movement as a pre-colonial utopian black homeland – this Promised Land, referenced in struggle songs, political sermons and African Nationalist speeches. In Cold War pop culture, Marvel Comics used Azania as a fictional backdrop to a Liberation story that bares a close resemblance to the situation that was Apartheid in Old South Africa… so it is at once a mythical and faintly factual place/state that this performance unfolds… Who are the Azanians for what it’s worth? It is in this liminal state that the performance unfolds…”

Seeking to radically reimage the potential of Azania and its inhabitants, the performance questions the mythical place that we mourn for and asks who its future inhabitants may be. Using the “Nation-Finding language of pomp and procession,” Ruga proposes a bold and iconoclastic break with the past Utopian promise of the elders and instead presents us with a new potential and hybridity.

Text from the Athi-Patra Ruga blog March 17, 2015 [Online] Cited 08/04/2021.

 

Athi-Patra Ruga. 'Uzuko' 2013


 

Athi-Patra Ruga (South Africa, b. 1984)
Uzuko
2013
Wool, thread and artificial flowers on tapestry canvas
200 x 180 cm

 

 

Athi-Patra Ruga is one of a handful of artists, working in South Africa today, who has adopted the tropes of myth as a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era. Ruga has always worked with creating alternative identities that sublimate marginalised experience into something strangely identifiable.

In The Future White Women of Azania he is turning his attention to an idea intimately linked to the apartheid era’s fiction of Azania – a Southern African decolonialised arcadia. It is a myth that perhaps seems almost less attainable now than when the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) appropriated the name in 1965 as the signifier of an ideal future South Africa – then at least was a time to dream more optimistically largely because the idea seemed so infinitely remote.

But Ruga, in his imaginings of Azania, has stuck closer to the original myth, situating it in Eastern Africa as the Roman, Pliny the Elder, did in the first written record of the name. Here Ruga in his map The Lands of Azania (2014-2094) has created lands suggestive of sin, of decadence and current politics. Countries named Palestine, Sodom, Kuntistan, Zwartheid and Nunubia are lands that reference pre-colonial, colonial and biblical regions with all their negative and politically disquieting associations. However, in what seems like something of a response to the ‘politically’ embroidered maps of the Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti, Ruga infers that the politicisation of words are in a sense prior to the constructed ideology of the nation state.

What is more Azania is a region of tropical chromatic colours, which is populated with characters whose identities are in a state of transformation. At the centre of the panoply of these figures stands The Future White Woman whose racial metamorphosis, amongst a cocoon of multi-coloured balloons, suggests something disturbing, something that questions the processes of a problematic cultural assimilation. And it is here that the veracity of the myth of a future arcadia is being disputed if not entirely rejected.

To be sure, unlike Barthes’ suggestion in his essay ‘Myth Today’, Ruga is not creating myth in an act that depoliticises, simplifying form in order to perpetuate the idea of an erroneous future ‘good society’. Instead, placing himself in amongst the characters in a lavish self portrait Ruga imagines himself into the space of the clown or jester (much like the Rococo painter Watteau did in his painting ‘Giles’), into the space of interpreter as well as a cultural product of the forces outside of his own control.

Ruga’s Azania is a world of confusing transformations whose references are Rococo and its more modern derivative Pop. But whatever future this myth is foreshadowing, with its wealth, its tropical backdrop, its complicated and confusing identities, it is not a place of peaceful harmony – or at least not one that is easily recognisable. As Ruga adumbrated at a recent studio visit, his generation’s artistic approach of creating myths or alternative realities is in some ways an attempt to situate the traumas of the last 200 years in a place of detachment. That is to say at a farsighted distance where their wounds can be contemplated outside of the usual personalised grief and subjective defensiveness.

Statement from WHATIFTHEWORLD.com on the Empty Kingdom website [Online] Cited 20/06/2014. No longer available online

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Ponte City from Yeoville Ridge' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Ponte City from Yeoville Ridge
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Cleaning the Core, Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Cleaning the Core, Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
49 7/16 x 59 1/16 in. (125.5 x 150cm)
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Untitled I, Ponte City, Johannesburg' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Untitled I, Ponte City, Johannesburg
2008
Lightjet chromogenic print
Courtesy the artists and Goodman Gallery
© Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse

 

 

Originally intended as a nuclear point in the upwardly mobile social cartography of Johannesburg’s Hillbrow, the 173 meter-high cylindrical apartment building Ponte City became an urban legend, and an essential part of visual renderings of the city. It was the conflicted spectacle of Ponte City that drew South African photographer, Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, a British artist, to look more closely in rather than at the tower.

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. 'Lift Portrait 2, Ponte City, Johannesburg (0328)' 2008

 

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse
Lift Portrait 2, Ponte City, Johannesburg (0328)
2008
C-print mounted on Dibond
124 cm x 151.5cm

 

 

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03
Oct
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part II’ at The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm, Germany

Exhibition dates: 9th June 9 2013 – 17th May 2015

 

Sammy Baloji. 'Untitled 7' 2006

 

Sammy Baloji (Congolese, b. 1978)
Untitled 7
2006
From Mémoires

 

 

This is the last in my trilogy of postings on exhibitions titled Distance and Desire which have featured African art from The Walther Collection, this time focusing on contemporary art.

It is quite instructive to compare this posting with the last, the exhibition My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia at The Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane. I feel (a critical word) that there is a completely different atmosphere to most of this contemporary art when compared to the Australian iteration. Despite both groups surviving horrendous experiences and the ongoing memories of those acts, there seems to be a lightness of spirit to most of the contemporary African art, a delightful irony, a self deprecating humour, a less backward looking sadness than evidenced in the Australian work.

Of course there are intense moments when contemporary artists mine (and that is an appropriate word, for many Africans worked in servitude in the mines during the Apartheid period) the colonial archive, such as Carrie Mae Weems blood red tondos, You Became a Scientific Profile / An Anthropological Debate / A Negroid Type / A Photographic Subject (1995-1996, below) but what is more in evidence here is a dramatic sense of fashion and the performative and playful manner in which contemporary African identities are explored coupled with a strength in the representation of these identities. These are strong, forthright individuals not hidden off camera or dressed up in European dreamings imagin(in)g utopian “what ifs”; not the obvious crosses on black chests or deleted, delineated faces made of gum blossoms – but vital, alive, present human beings. While both groups of artists use traditional symbology to explore issues of identity and representation, the Australian version often seems dragged down by the portrayed dichotomy between past and present, traditional and contemporary / subversive, as though there must always be a reckoning, a longing, a sadness constantly reiterated in / with the past.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All images Courtesy of The Walther Collection.

 

Part II: Contemporary Reconfigurations

Pieter Hugo. 'Nandipha Mntambo, Cape Town' 2012

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Nandipha Mntambo, Cape Town
2012
From There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends

 

 

Pieter Hugo’s There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends is a series of close-up portraits of the artist and his friends, all of whom call South Africa home. Through a digital process of converting colour images to black and white while manipulating the colour channels, Hugo emphasises the pigment (melanin) in his sitters’ skins so they appear heavily marked by blemishes and sun damage. The resulting portraits are the antithesis of the airbrushed images that determine the canons of beauty in popular culture, and expose the contradictions of racial distinctions based on skin colour. As the critic Aaron Schuman writes, “although at first glance we may look ‘black’ or ‘white’, the components that remain ‘active’ beneath the surface consist of a much broader spectrum. What superficially appears to divide us is in fact something that we all share, and like these photographs, we are not merely black and white – we are red, yellow, brown, and so on; we are all, in fact, coloured.

Text from the Stevenson Gallery website [Online] Cited 01/10/2013 no longer available online

 

Sabelo Mlangeni. 'Outside King Mswati's palace' 2011

 

Sabelo Mlangeni (South African, b. 1980)
Outside King Mswati’s palace
2011
From Iimbali

 

Sabelo Mlangeni. 'Imbali' 2011

 

Sabelo Mlangeni (South African, b. 1980)
Imbali
2011
From Iimbali

 

David Goldblatt. 'Mineworkers in their hostel, Western Deep Levels, Carletonville' 1970

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Mineworkers in their hostel, Western Deep Levels, Carletonville
1970

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Yasser Booley, Cape Town' 2011

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Yasser Booley, Cape Town
2011
From There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Pieter Hugo, Cape Town' 2011

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Pieter Hugo, Cape Town
2011
From There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends

 

Pieter Hugo. 'Themba Tshabalala, Cape Town' 2011

 

Pieter Hugo (South African, b. 1976)
Themba Tshabalala, Cape Town
2011
From There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends

 

Guy Tillim. 'Mai Mai militia in training near Beni, eastern DRC, for immediate deployment with the APC (Armée Populaire du Congo), the army of the RCD-KIS-ML - Portraits I and II' December 2002

Guy Tillim. 'Mai Mai militia in training near Beni, eastern DRC, for immediate deployment with the APC (Armée Populaire du Congo), the army of the RCD-KIS-ML - Portraits I and II' December 2002

 

Guy Tillim (South African, b. 1962)
Mai Mai militia in training near Beni, eastern DRC, for immediate deployment with the APC (Armée Populaire du Congo), the army of the RCD-KIS-ML – Portraits I and II
December 2002

 

Sabelo Mlangeni. 'Lwazi Mtshali, "Bigboy"' 2009

 

Sabelo Mlangeni (South African, b. 1980)
Lwazi Mtshali, “Bigboy”
2009
From Country Girls

 

Sabelo Mlangeni. 'Xolani Ngayi, eStanela' 2009

 

Sabelo Mlangeni (South African, b. 1980)
Xolani Ngayi, eStanela
2009
From Country Girls

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Amogelang Senokwane, District Six, Cape Town' 2009

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Amogelang Senokwane, District Six, Cape Town
2009
From Faces and Phases

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Sishipo Ndzuzo, Embekweni, Paarl' 2009

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Sishipo Ndzuzo, Embekweni, Paarl
2009
From Faces and Phases

 

 

The Walther Collection is pleased to announce Part II of Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive, a three-part exhibition series curated by Tamar Garb. “Contemporary Reconfigurations” offers new perspectives on the African photographic archive, reimagining its diverse histories and changing meanings. The exhibition centres on photography and video by African and African American artists who engage critically with the archive through parody, appropriation, and reenactment.

Carrie Mae Weems introduces the themes of “Contemporary Reconfigurations” with her powerful series From Here I Saw What Happened And I Cried, a revision of nineteenth and twentieth-century anthropometric photographs of African Americans, overlaid with texts by the artist. Sammy Baloji, Candice Breitz, Zwelethu Mthethwa, and Zanele Muholi rethink the ethnographic archive in large-scale colour prints, while Samuel Fosso and Philip Kwame Apagya create exuberant studio portraiture.

Sabelo Mlangeni’s black and white photo-essay, Imbali, documents the reed dances of KwaZulu-Natal, showing the display of virgins vying to be chosen as brides. Pieter Hugo’s series There’s a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends examines ethnicity and skin tonalities through anthropological mug shots. Working in video, Berni Searle performs as a statuesque deity engaged in domestic labor in “Snow White,” and Andrew Putter gives an indigenous voice to the effigy of Marie van Riebeeck, wife of the first Dutch settler in the area known today as Cape Town, in “Secretly I Will Love You More.”

For this group of artists, a stereotype or ethnographic vision in one era may provide material for quotation, irreverent reworking, or satirical performance in another. Illustrating how the African archive – broadly understood as an accumulation of representations, images, and objects – figures in selected contemporary lens-based practices, the exhibition stages a dialogue between the distance of the past and the desiring gaze of the present.

Press release from The Walther Collection website

 

Zwelethu Mthethwa. 'Untitled' 2010

 

Zwelethu Mthethwa (South African, b. 1960)
Untitled
2010
From The Brave Ones
Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

Samuel Fosso. 'La femme américaine libérée des années 70' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962)
La femme américaine libérée des années 70
1997

 

Samuel Fosso. 'Le Chef qui a vendu l'Afrique aux colons' 1997

 

Samuel Fosso (Cameroonian, b. 1962)
Le Chef qui a vendu l’Afrique aux colons
1997

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Miss D'vine I' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Miss D’vine I
2007

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Miss D'vine II' 2007

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Miss D’vine II
2007

 

Candice Breitz. 'Ghost Series #9' 1994-1996

 

Candice Breitz (South African, b. 1972)
Ghost Series #9
1994-1996

 

Candice Breitz. 'Ghost Series #4' 1994-1996

 

Candice Breitz (South African, b. 1972)
Ghost Series #4
1994-1996

 

Carrie Mae Weems. 'You Became a Scientific Profile / An Anthropological Debate / A Negroid Type / A Photographic Subject' 1995-1996

 

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953)
You Became a Scientific Profile / An Anthropological Debate / A Negroid Type / A Photographic Subject
1995-1996
From From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried
Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

 

Andrew Putter. 'Secretly I Will Love You More' 2007 (video still)

 

Andrew Putter (South African, b. 1965)
Secretly I Will Love You More (video still)
2007
Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg

 

Sue Williamson. 'Helen Joseph' 1983

 

Sue Williamson (South African, b. 1941)
Helen Joseph
1983
from A Few South Africans

 

 

Helen Beatrice Joseph (née Fennell) (8 April 1905 – 25 December 1992) was a South African anti-apartheid activist.

Helen Joseph was born in Eastbourne near Midhurst West Sussex, England and graduated from King’s College London, in 1927. After working as a teacher in India for three years, Helen came to South Africa in 1931, where she met and married a dentist, Billie Joseph. In 1951 Helen took a job with the Garment Workers Union, led by Solly Sachs. She was a founder member of the Congress of Democrats, and one of the leaders who read out clauses of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955. Appalled by the plight of black women, she was pivotal in the formation of the Federation of South African Women and with the organisation’s leadership, spearheaded a march of 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against pass laws on August 9, 1956. This day is still celebrated as South Africa’s Women’s Day.

She was a defendant at the 1956 Treason Trial. She was arrested on a charge of high treason in December 1956, then banned in 1957. The treason trial dragged on for four years but she was acquitted in 1961. In spite of her acquittal, in 13 October 1962, Helen became the first person to be placed under house arrest under the Sabotage Act that had just been introduced by the apartheid government. She narrowly escaped death more than once, surviving bullets shot through her bedroom and a bomb wired to her front gate. Her last banning order was lifted when she was 80 years old. Helen had no children of her own, but frequently stood in loco parentis for the children of comrades in prison or in exile. Among the children who spent time in her care were Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s daughters Zinzi and Zenani and Bram Fischer’s daughter Ilsa. Helen Joseph died on the 25 December 1992 at the age of 87.

Text from Wikipedia website

 

Sue Williamson. 'Miriam Makeba' 1987

 

Sue Williamson (South African, b. 1941)
Miriam Makeba
1987
From A Few South Africans

 

 

Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil rights activist.

In the 1960s, she was the first artist from Africa to popularise African music around the world. She is best known for the song “Pata Pata”, first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and her former husband Hugh Masekela. Makeba campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. The South African government responded by revoking her passport in 1960 and her citizenship and right of return in 1963. As the apartheid system crumbled she returned home for the first time in 1990. Makeba died of a heart attack on 9 November 2008 after performing in a concert in Italy organised to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the region of Campania.

Text from Wikipedia website

 

Kudzanai Chiurai. 'The Black President' 2009

 

Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwean, b. 1981)
The Black President
2009

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Ms Le Sishi I, Glebelands, Durban' January 2010

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Ms Le Sishi I, Glebelands, Durban
January 2010
From Beulahs (Beauties)

 

Zanele Muholi. 'Martin Machapa' 2006

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972)
Martin Machapa
2006
From Beulahs (Beauties)

 

Philip Kwame Apagya. 'Come on Board' 2000

 

Philip Kwame Apagya (Ghanaian, b. 1958)
Come on Board
2000

 

Philip Kwame Apagya. 'After the Funeral' 1998

 

Philip Kwame Apagya (Ghanaian, b. 1958)
After the Funeral
1998

 

 

The Walther Collection
Reichenauer Strasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm, Germany

Opening hours:
Thurs – Sunday by appointment and with guided tour only
Public tours Saturday and Sunday at 3pm by appointment only

The Walther Collection website

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13
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III: Poetics and Politics’ at The Walther Collection Project Space, New York: Part 2

Exhibition dates: 22nd March – 18th May 2013

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Dressing hair. Women of the E. Coast. Africa' Tanzania, early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Dressing hair. Women of the E. Coast. Africa
Tanzania, early twentieth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted on album page

 

 

“Distance invokes travel, geographic dichotomies, estrangement, otherness, and separation in time. Whereas desire implies proximity, closeness, affect, and unfulfilled longing.”

.
Part 2 of the posting about the exhibition Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive Part III. I have added notes under some of the photographs to give context to the tribes, the people and the titles of the photographs. For more information see The New Yorker: Photo Booth’s interview with curator South African scholar Tamar Garb.

Marcus

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF FEMALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

.
Many thankx to The Walther Collection for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Damara Servant Girl, S. Africa' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916), inscribed:
Damara Servant Girl, S. Africa
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Photograph of a young woman' East Africa, Early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Photograph of a young woman
East Africa, Early twentieth century
Gelatin-silver developed-out print

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard. 'Zulu Kaffir' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Samuel Baylis Barnard (English, 1841-1916), inscribed:
Zulu Kaffir
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' East Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
East Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

 

This man is from the Hadendowa tribe, eastern Sudan.

Hadendoa (or Hadendowa) is the name of a nomadic subdivision of the Beja people, known for their support of the Mahdiyyah rebellion during the 1880s to 1890s. The area historically inhabited by the Hadendoa is today parts of Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Monsiga Chief of Mafeking' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer, inscribed:
Monsiga Chief of Mafeking
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted on album page

 

 

Mahikeng – formerly, and still commonly, known as Mafikeng and historically Mafeking in English – is the capital city of the North-West Province of South Africa. It is best known internationally for the Siege of Mafeking, the most famous engagement of the Second Boer War.

Located close to South Africa’s border with Botswana, Mahikeng is 1,400 km (870 mi) northeast of Cape Town and 260 km (160 mi) west of Johannesburg. In 2001, it had a population of 49,300. In 2007, Mafikeng was reported to have a population of 250,000 of which the CBD constitutes between 69,000 and 75,000. It is built on the open veld at an elevation of 1,500 m (4,921 ft), by the banks of the Upper Molopo River. TheMadibi goldfields are some 15 km (9.3 mi) south of the town.

 

A. James Gribble. 'Masupa. Kaffir Chief & sons. Basutoland' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

A. James Gribble, inscribed:
Masupa. Kaffir Chief & sons. Basutoland
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Albumen print

 

 

Basutoland or officially the Territory of Basutoland, was a British Crown colony established in 1884 after the Cape Colony’s inability to control the territory. It was divided into seven administrative districts; Berea, Leribe, Maseru, Mohales Hoek, Mafeteng, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing.

Basutoland was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon independence from the United Kingdom on October 4, 1966.

 

W. Rausch. 'Indaba of Induna Chiefs, Buluwayo' Zimbabwe, 1890s

 

W. Rausch (South African, 1862-1900), inscribed:
Indaba of Induna Chiefs, Buluwayo
Zimbabwe, 1890s
Gelatin or collodion printed-out print mounted on card

 

 

InDuna (plural: izinDuna) is a Zulu title meaning advisor, great leader, ambassador, headman, or commander of group of warriors. It can also mean spokesperson or mediator as the izinDuna often acted as a bridge between the people and the king. The title was reserved for senior officials appointed by the king or chief, and was awarded to individuals held in high esteem for their qualities of leadership, bravery or service to the community. The izinDuna would regularly gather for an indaba to discuss important issues. An indaba is an important conference held by the izinDuna (principal men) of the Zulu or Xhosa peoples of South Africa. (Text from Wikipedia)

William Rausch was born in Cape Colony, South Africa in 1862. Eventually he made his way to Bulawayo where established himself as a photographer. His earliest photos date from 1895. He is one of four photographers listed in Matabeleland during this time: C. Hines, C. H. Newberry, J. Parkin, and W. Rausch. The Rhodesia Scientific Association (1899) lists Rausch as having won a prize for his Rhodesian photographs. He died of pneumonia at Memorial Hospital on 24 September, 1900. H. A. de Beers was appointed as executor and his estate was finalised 24 January 1901.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Studio photograph of a man' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Studio photograph of a man
South Africa, late nineteenth century
Carte de visite

 

Gray Brothers (Diamond Fields). 'Zulu / Young Warrior in fighting order, and in skin Kaross. Armed with hatchet and assegai' South Africa. c. 1870s

 

Gray Brothers (Diamond Fields), inscribed:
Zulu / Young Warrior in fighting order, and in skin Kaross. Armed with hatchet and assegai
South Africa. c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

G. F. Williams. 'Studio photograph of two women' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

G. F. Williams
Studio photograph of two women
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

Lawrence Brothers, Cape Town (attr.). 'Kaffir girl' South Africa, c. 1870s

 

Lawrence Brothers, Cape Town (attr.), inscribed:
Kaffir girl
South Africa, c. 1870s
Carte de visite

 

 

The partners of Lawrence Bros. were James Lawrence and Colin Gibb Lawrence and they were doing business from Ashley street, Cape Town in 1864. Left for England in 1865. James employed his brothers Alexander and Colin Gibb as his assistants and later joined with Colin in a partnership.

 

Unidentified photographer. 'Portrait of King Khama III' South Africa, early twentieth century

 

Unidentified photographer
Portrait of King Khama III
South Africa, early twentieth century

 

 

Khama III (1837?-1923), also known as Khama the Good, was the kgosi (meaning chief or king) of the Bamangwato people of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), who made his country a protectorate of the United Kingdom to ensure its survival against Boer and Ndebele encroachments.

After Khama became king in 1875, after overthrowing his father Sekgoma and elbowing away his brother Kgamane his ascension came at a time of great dangers and opportunities. Ndebele incursions from the north (from what is now Zimbabwe), Boer and “mixed” trekkers from the south, and German colonialists from the West, all hoping to the seize his territory and its hinterlands. He answered these challenges by aligning his state with the administrative aims of the British, which provided him with cover and support, and, relatedly, by energetically expanding his own control over a much wider area than any “kgosi” before him. Khama converted to Christianity, which moved him to criminalise sectarianism and to deprecate the institutions favoured by traditionalists. At Khama’s request stringent laws were passed against the importation of alcohol. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.) and unidentified photographers. 'Albumen prints mounted to album page' South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.) and unidentified photographers
Albumen prints mounted to album page
South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.), Crewes & Van Laun (attr.), H. F. Gros (attr.), and unidentified photographers. 'Album page with photographs of Cetshwayo and his family, Chief Sekhukhune, and unidentified persons' South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

G. T. Ferneyhough (attr.), Crewes & Van Laun (attr.), H. F. Gros (attr.), and unidentified photographers
Album page with photographs of Cetshwayo and his family, Chief Sekhukhune, and unidentified persons
South Africa, last third of the nineteenth century

 

 

The bottom right hand text says, “Cetshwayo’s wives who came to England.” Obviously on the ship that took the King to England in 1882 (see below)

 

Invading Zululand

Lieutenant-General Sir Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, led the invasion of Zululand on 11 January, with British centre column crossing at Rorke’s Drift. Additional British forces massed at Lower Drift on the Thukela River, near the coast, and on the north-western border near Utrecht.

Isandlawana and Rorke’s Drift

Despite an early success at Isandlwana (22 January) where 24,000 Zulu warriors overran the British camp of 1,700 – over 1,300 British and Imperial troops were annihilated (only 60 of the survivors were Europeans). That evening the small garrison at Rorke’s Drift regained British self-respect by defending the (hospital) station against a force of more than 3,000 Zulu warriors.

Defeat at Ulundi

Cetshwayo’s army was finally defeated at oNdini (Ulundi) on 4 July 1879 and his royal homestead burnt to the ground. Although Cetshwayo escaped from oNdini, he was soon captured in the Ngome Forest by British dragoons (28 August). He was informed by Shepstone that he was to be exiled from Zululand and that the nation would be divided into 13 independent chiefdoms under the authority of the British.

Exile

On 15 September 1879 Cetshwayo was dispatched to Cape Town. He was held as a prisoner of war until February 1881 when he was transferred from the castle to Oude Molen, a farm on the Cape Flats.

“In 1882 Cetshwayo was permitted to travel to England for audience with Queen Victoria – he petitioned for his return to Zululand as ruler. He was a hit amongst London society and became a favourite of the public.”

Cetshwayo was returned in secret to Zululand on 10 January 1883. He was met at Port Durnford by Sir Theophilus Shepstone (who was brought out of retirement for the process). Shepstone arranged the details of Cetshwayo’s restoration (29 January), but he was not permitted an army to defend his somewhat reduced ‘nation’ – part of the arrangement was that the north of Zululand was to be put under the control of his rival, Zibhebhu kaMaphitha.

Defeat and Retreat

By March 1883 Zibhebhu was moving against Cetshwayo’s supporters in his assigned northern territory and Cetshwayo’s uSuthu marched against him. The uSuthu were defeated and driven into Transvaal and back south to oNdini. The civil war between Cetshwayo and Zibhebhu ranged across the Mahlabathini plain and the uSuthu was once again defeated. Whilst Cetshwayo and his 15-year old heir, Dinizulu, were able to escape the capital of oNdini and hide out in the Nkandla forest, theuSuthu leadership was decimated. Cetshwayo was escorted to Eshowe by Henry Francis Fynn jr, the British Resident in Zululand, on the 15 October 1883.

A Disputed Cause of Death

On the afternoon of 8 February 1884 Cetshwayo died. Although officially recorded as a heart attack (Surgeon Scott, the resident military medical officer, was refused permission to do an autopsy and so could record no other cause). However an abortive assassination attempt (by poison) was made against Mnyamana kaNgqengelele, chief of the Buthelezi and Cetshwayo’s chief inDuna, around the same so time it seems likely that Cetshwayo was also poisoned.

Text from the African History website [Online] Cited 11/05/2013 no longer available online

 

Unidentified photographers. 'Albumen prints mounted to album page' South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified photographers
Albumen prints mounted to album page
South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified Photographer. 'Native Policemen' South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified photographer
Native Policemen
South Africa, late nineteen century
from Albumen prints mounted to album page

 

Unidentified Photographer. 'Portrait of a Man' (detail) South Africa, late nineteen century

 

Unidentified Photographer
Portrait of a Man (detail)
South Africa, late nineteen century
from Albumen prints mounted to album page

 

Notice how the white spots have been painted on by the photographer after exposure, presumably to “exoticise” the noble savage.

 

Unidentified photographers. 'Album page' South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

Unidentified photographers
Album page
South Africa, late nineteenth century

 

 

The Walther Collection Project Space

Suite 718, 508-526 West 26th Street
New York
Phone: +1 212 352 0683

Opening hours:
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20
Feb
13

Exhibition: ‘South Africa in Apartheid and After: David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Billy Monk’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 1st December 2012 – 5th March 2013

 

Ernest Cole. 'A student who said he was going to fetch his textbook is pulled in. To prove he was still in school he showed his fountain pen and ink-stained fingers. But that was not enough; in long pants he looked older than sixteen' 1960–1966

 

Ernest Cole (South African, 1940-1990)
A student who said he was going to fetch his textbook is pulled in. To prove he was still in school he showed his fountain pen and ink-stained fingers. But that was not enough; in long pants he looked older than sixteen
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 cm x 32cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

 

“We were insiders, all three of us: Ernest Cole, Billy Monk, and me. We each photographed from the inside what we most intimately knew.

Cole was born Ernest Levi Tsoloane Kole in 1940, to a working-class Black family in a Black township outside the city of Pretoria. Growing into that society he came to know, with a depth of understanding that only belonging could bring, both its richness and the hardship and humiliation imposed by apartheid. As a boy he photographed people in the township for a shilling a time. By the age of eighteen he had begun to work as a photojournalist, and within a few years he was deeply committed to his essay on what it meant to be Black under apartheid. At age twenty-six, to escape the Security Police and to publish his seminal book, House of Bondage, he went into bitter and destructive exile. Cancer killed him in 1990. Apartheid destroyed him.

Billy Monk’s photographs have the frank and warm intimacy that comes to someone who was completely trusted by his subjects. They are of a tiny splinter of another way of being: a place in apartheid South Africa of neither Black nor White but of somewhere not quite in between. Not quite, because while Blacks would not have gained participatory entrance to the Catacombs nightclub, people “of colour” did, and mixed there freely with Whites. It was a question of bending the law – within limits. Here you were judged not by your conformity with the pathological rigidities of Calvinism gone mad, but by your immersion in the conviviality of brandy and Coke. We will never know what might have become of the eye of Billy Monk, for in 1982 he died at age forty-five in a brawl while on his way to the first exhibition of his work. He has left us what the photographer Paul Graham might describe as a sliver of possibility.

My series In Boksburg tells of what it meant to be White in a middle-class South African community during the years of apartheid. It was a place of quiet respectability such as might be found in innumerable towns around the world. Except that Blacks were not of it. They were the largest component of its population; they served it, traded with it, received charity from it, and were ruled, rewarded, and punished by its precepts. Some, on occasion, were its privileged guests. But all who went there did so by permit or invitation, never by right. White and Black: locked into a system of manic control and profound immorality. Simply to draw breath was to be complicit. Heroism or emigration seemed to offer the only escape.

That’s how it was and is no longer.”

.
David Goldblatt

 

 

It is the work of Billy Monk that is most impressive in this posting. Photographed in the rowdy Cape Town nightclub The Catacombs in the 1960s, Monk’s photographs of the racially mixed clientele portray them in extraordinary intimacy in all their states of joy and sadness. While his protagonists take centre stage within his photographs there is a wonderful spatial openness to Monk’s 35mm flash images photographed with a slightly wide angle 35mm lens. Monk does not fill the pictorial frame; he allows his images to breathe. Witness (and that is what he did) the moment of stasis before kiss of The Catacombs, 30 September 1967 (below), the intensity of the man’s passionate embrace, gaze, the sublime distance between bottle at right and bottle top, the image replete with blank, contextless wall behind. There is passion and hilarity here coupled with a feeling of infinite sadness – the squashed faces of The Catacombs, 31 July 1967, the convivial happiness of the couple in The Catacombs, 5 February 1968 (he with his stained trouser leg) counterbalanced by the desolate looking man behind them and the mute expression on the trapped go-go dancers face in The Balalaika, December 1969 as the man reaches his hand through the bars towards her.

Observe the masterpiece that is The Catacombs, 21 November 1967 (below). The cheap Formica bench top and empty Coca-Cola bottle with straw, a half smoked cigarette pointing out of the photograph at bottom right. If the cigarette wasn’t there the image would fall away in that corner: it HAS to be there, an Monk’s eye knew it. The women, standing, singing? holding two bottles of liquor in her out thrust arms, her eyes and hair mimicking the patterns of the painted Medusa behind her. And the young man dressed in jacket and time, one arm outstretched and resting on the bench, the other resting curled up next to his mouth and cheek. It’s his look that gets you – she, declamatory; he, lost in melancholic reverie, with the troubles of the world on his shoulders totally oblivious to her performance. The emotional distance between the two, as the distance between his resting hand and the empty Coke bottle, is enormous, insurmountable. Such a profound and troubling image of a society in hedonistic denial. His look is the look of loneliness, anguish and despair.

These photographs that are the eye of Billy Monk, these slivers of possibility, should not be regarded as a “what if he had lived” sliver, but the silver possibility of what he did see when he was alive. They are a celebration of his informed eye and a recognition of his undoubted talent. I am moved by their pathos and humanity.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Read the text sections of the exhibition (2.8Mb pdf)

 

 

Ernest Cole. 'After processing they wait at railroad station for transportation to mine. Identity tag on wrist shows shipment of labor to which man is assigned' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole (South African, 1940-1990)
After processing they wait at railroad station for transportation to mine. Identity tag on wrist shows shipment of labor to which man is assigned
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 x 32cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Africans throng Johannesburg station platform during late afternoon rush' 1960–1966

 

Ernest Cole (South African, 1940-1990)
Africans throng Johannesburg station platform during late afternoon rush
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 x 32cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Every African must show his pass before being allowed to go about his business. Sometimes check broadens into search of a man's person and belongings' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole (South African, 1940-1990)
Every African must show his pass before being allowed to go about his business. Sometimes check broadens into search of a man’s person and belongings
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
8 11/16 x 12 5/8 in. (22 x 32cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Untitled [White Washroom]' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole (South African, 1940-1990)
Untitled [White Washroom]
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 11/16 in. (32 x 22cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

Ernest Cole. 'Newspapers are her carpet, fruit crates her chairs and table' 1960-1966

 

Ernest Cole (South African, 1940-1990)
Newspapers are her carpet, fruit crates her chairs and table
1960-1966
Gelatin silver print
12 5/8 x 8 11/16 in. (32 x 22cm)
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden
© The Ernest Cole Family Trust

 

 

“From December 1, 2012, through March 5, 2013, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presents South Africa in Apartheid and After: David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole, Billy Monk, featuring work by three photographers that illuminates a rich and diverse photographic tradition as well as a vital, difficult, and contested period in the history of South Africa. The exhibition continues the museum’s longstanding commitment to documentary photography, showcasing the greatest breadth of each artist’s work ever shown in San Francisco, and in the U.S. for Cole and Monk. Organised by Sandra S. Phillips, SFMOMA’s senior curator of photography, South Africa in Apartheid and After brings together more than 120 photographs.

“South Africa is proving to be a very fertile and active area for contemporary photography, to which David Goldblatt’s contributions and longstanding concerns have contributed significantly,” notes Phillips. “With this show we hope to show some of this rich and varied activity.”

The internationally recognised artist David Goldblatt (1930-2018) has created an immense and powerful body of work depicting his native South Africa for a half century. The exhibition features photographs from Goldblatt’s early project In Boksburg (1982), which portrays a suburban white community near Johannesburg shaped by what the artist calls “white dreams and white proprieties.” Losing its distinctiveness in the accelerated growth of development, Boksburg could almost be mistaken for American suburbia in Goldblatt’s pictures, made in 1979 and 1980. In them, the quaintness of small-town life in South Africa is startlingly set against the increasing entrenchment of racial inequality in the country under apartheid.

Offering multiple perspectives on South Africa during this period, the work of Ernest Cole and Billy Monk are presented in the exhibition at Goldblatt’s suggestion. Adding an important dimension to Goldblatt’s Boksburg project is the work of Cole (1940-1990), a black South African photographer who documented the other side of the racial divide until he was forced to leave his country in 1966. The following year, his project was published in the United States as the book, House of Bondage, and immediately banned in South Africa; this major critique of apartheid has hardly been seen in his own country. In 2006, Goldblatt received the Hasselblad Award and became aware of Cole’s original, uncropped prints. Goldblatt was instrumental in helping bring Cole’s work to international prominence, assisting in organising a retrospective tour of the work, and championing an accompanying book project, Ernest Cole Photographer (2010). Selected works from the publication are included in the SFMOMA exhibition, featuring pictures that are eloquent, tragic, and deeply humane without a trace of sensationalism. Billy Monk (1937-1982) was a gregarious self-taught photographer who worked as a bouncer in the rowdy Cape Town nightclub The Catacombs in the 1960s. His work, recovered and reprinted posthumously by South African photographer Jac de Villiers, exists as a raw and beautiful record of the port city’s racially mixed population. These three groups of pictures are complemented by a selection of Goldblatt’s post-apartheid photographs, including large colour triptychs of beautiful and sober yet hopeful records of an imperfect, still evolving democracy.

The work of all three photographers are also featured in the ongoing exhibition Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life at the International Center of Photography, New York (September 14, 2012-January 6, 2013), and Goldblatt and Cole are included in Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s at Barbican Art Gallery, London (September 13, 2012-January 13, 2013).

 

David Goldblatt

Born in Randfontein, South Africa, Goldblatt first started photographing his native country in 1948, the same year the National Party came to power and instituted the policy of apartheid. Since then, he has devoted himself to documenting the South African people, landscape, and cities. Goldblatt photographed exclusively in black and white until the late 1990s. Following the end of apartheid and South Africa’s democratic elections in 1994, he looked for new expressive possibilities for his work and turned to colour and digital photography. This transition only took place after developments in scanning and printing technology allowed Goldblatt to achieve the same sense of depth in his colour work as in his black and white photographs.

In 1989 Goldblatt founded the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg with “the object of teaching visual literacy and photographic skills to young people, with particular emphasis on those disadvantaged by apartheid,” he has said. In 1998 he was the first South African to be given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. That year, the retrospective David Goldblatt, Fifty-one Years began its international tour, traveling to New York, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Lisbon, Oxford, Brussels, Munich, and Johannesburg. He was also one of the few South African artists to exhibit at Documenta 11 (2002) and Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, Germany. In addition to numerous other solo and group exhibitions, Goldblatt was featured recently in solo shows at the New Museum (2009), the Jewish Museum (2010) in New York – which also traveled to the South African Jewish Museum – and the Victoria and Albert Museum (2011).

 

Ernest Cole

Cole left school at 16 as the Bantu education for black South Africans during apartheid prepared them only for menial jobs. Essentially self taught, Cole worked early on as a layout and darkroom assistant for Drum Magazine, a publication loosely inspired by Life magazine and directed toward the native African population. Cole was relatively mobile due to his racial reclassification as “coloured,” the designation for mixed race, that likely stemmed from his ability to speak Afrikaans, the language of Afrikaners. However, Cole was closely surveilled and had to photograph covertly, so he always worked at the risk of being arrested and jailed. He believed passionately in his mission to tell the world in photographs what it was like and what it meant to be black under apartheid, and identified intimately with his own people in photographs. With imaginative daring, courage, and compassion, he portrayed the full range of experience of black people as they negotiated their lives through apartheid.

In 1966, Cole decided to leave South Africa with a dream of making a book; House of Bondage was eventually published in the U.S. in 1967. The book, and Cole himself, were immediately banned in South Africa, and Cole passed away after more than 23 years of painful exile, never returning to his home country and leaving no known negatives and few prints of his monumental work. Tio fotografer, an association of Swedish photographers with whom Cole worked from 1970 to 1975 while living in Stockholm, received a collection of his prints, and these were later donated to the Hasselblad Foundation in Sweden.When David Goldblatt received the Hasselblad award in 2006, he viewed the works and then collaborated with the foundation to bring Cole’s work to light. Many of the prints were shown publicly for the first time in the traveling 2010 retrospective Ernest Cole Photographer, which offered new insights to the complex interaction between Cole’s unflinching revelations of apartheid at work and the power, yet subtlety and even elegance, of his photographic perspective. Ernest Cole Photographer has only been seen in South Africa and Sweden. Approximately one-third of Cole’s photographs on view in the SFMOMA exhibition have never been shown before.

 

Billy Monk

Using a Pentax camera with 35mm lens, Monk photographed the nightclub revellers of The Catacombs and sold the prints to his subjects. His close friendships with many of the people in the pictures allowed him to photograph them with extraordinary intimacy in all their states of joy and sadness. His pictures of nightlife seem carefree and far away from the scars and segregation of apartheid that fractured this society in the daylight.

In 1969, Monk stopped taking photographs at the club. A decade later his contact sheets and negatives were discovered in a studio by photographer Jac de Villiers, who recognised the significance of his work and arranged the first exhibition of Monk’s work in 1982 at the Market Gallery in Johannesburg. Monk could not attend the opening, and two weeks later, en route to seeing the exhibition, he was tragically shot dead in a fight. From 2010 to 2011, De Villiers revisited Monk’s contact sheets and curated an exhibition at the  Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town, including works that had never been shown before, accompanied by a publication.”

Press release from the SFMOMA website

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 30 September 1967' 1967

 

Billy Monk (South African, 1937-1982)
The Catacombs, 30 September 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
10 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (25.56 x 37.94cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 31 July 1967' 1967

 

Billy Monk (South African, 1937-1982)
The Catacombs, 31 July 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print; 11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 5 February 1968' 1968

 

Billy Monk (South African, 1937-1982)
The Catacombs, 5 February 1968
1968, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 1968' 1968

 

Billy Monk (South African, 1937-1982)
The Catacombs, 1968
1968, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
11 x 16 in. (27.94 x 40.64cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Balalaika, December 1969' 1969

 

Billy Monk (South African, 1937-1982)
The Balalaika, December 1969
1969, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
16 x 11 in. (40.64 x 27.94cm)
Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

Billy Monk. 'The Catacombs, 21 November 1967' 1967

 

Billy Monk (South African, 1937-1982)
The Catacombs, 21 November 1967
1967, printed 2011
Gelatin silver print
15 x 10 in. (38.1 x 25.4cm)
Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase
© Estate of Billy Monk

 

David Goldblatt. 'At a meeting of Voortrekkers in the suburb of Witfield' 1979-1980

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
At a meeting of Voortrekkers in the suburb of Witfield
1979-1980
Gelatin silver print
14 9/16 x 14 9/16 in. (37 x 37cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery, South Africa
© David Goldblatt

 

David Goldblatt. 'Eyesight testing at the Vosloorus Eye Clinic of the Boksburg Lions Club' 1980

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Eyesight testing at the Vosloorus Eye Clinic of the Boksburg Lions Club
1980
Gelatin silver print
19 11/16 x 19 11/16 in. (50 x 50cm)
Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery, South Africa
© David Goldblatt

 

David Goldblatt. 'Saturday afternoon in Sunward Park' 1979

 

David Goldblatt (South African, 1930-2018)
Saturday afternoon in Sunward Park
1979
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 6 7/8 in. (17.5 x 17.5cm)
Collection SFMOMA, purchase through a gift of Mark McCain and the Accessions Committee Fund
© David Goldblatt

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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