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A new wave of South African Photography at the V&A Museum

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A new wave of South African Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Monday, 25th April 2011 – David Franchi

The exhibition “Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography”, at the V&A Museum, London, until 17th July 2011, is focused on the social aspects of the post- apartheid country.

The V&A has the oldest museum photography collection in the world and holds the UK’s national collection of photography. This is, in fact, the first UK exhibition of contemporary South African photography. It features over 150 works from seventeen photographers, taken during the last ten years by some of the most celebrated photographers in the world, together with others less famous, living and working in South Africa today.

All the photographers are focusing on the subject ‘what does it mean to be human at this time in South Africa. In the post-apartheid country, in fact, an interesting and refined photographic culture of photography has emerged. When the severe South African regime ended, the whole nation needed to reshape many of its beliefs. Photography was used to depict people for science purposes when it arrived in South Africa in 1840. After the white government established photography became the medium to portray the unkind life of the people. However, this group of photographers is looking for new ways of thinking the post-apartheid South Africa.

Co-curator Martin Barnes said: “This exhibition shows the range and variety of politically-engaged fine art photography arising from a captivating period in South Africa’s history. These photographers are at the forefront of photography emerging anywhere in the world today and it’s a wonderful opportunity to gather them together for this first major exhibition showcase of the contemporary South African scene.”

South Africa had a long time regime of separation of the races with people categorised in into ‘black’, ‘white’ and ‘coloured’ that lasted nearly 50 years and collapsed in 1994. As a consequence of this fall, all aspects of life including sex, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, occupation and class have seen new laws regulations. Now there are middle-class black families who are able to settle down, buying properties and work in dignity, when white people are turning poor reversing the situation.

This exhibition gives a good picture of this condition. Photographers are doing a social reportage about South Africa that is leading a real revolution about all aspects of human life. Each photographer is represented by one or more series that imaginatively question the conventions of portraiture, ethnographic studies or documentary photography.

Works on display portrays people within their individual, family and community lives, practicing religious customs, observing social rituals, wearing street fashion or existing on the fringes of society. The artist array is quite comprehensive, but other important South African photographers could be included as partially has done in the catalogue. However, the exhibition is very interesting and it shed light on an emerging art wave and a transformed country focused on the future.

The photographers in the exhibition range from celebrities David Goldblatt and Santu Mofokeng to mid-career star Pieter Hugo, Zwelethu Mthethwa and Guy Tillim. There is a new generation, fresh to the international stage, including Zanele Muholi, Hasan and Husain Essop and Jodi Bieber. Also present are other interesting artists like, Kudzanai Chiurai, Terry Kurgan, Sabelo Mlangeni, Jo Ractliffe, Berni Searle, Mikhael Subotzky, Nontsikelelo ‘Lolo’ Veleko, Roelof Petrus Van Wyk and Graeme Williams.

The exhibition co-curators are Professor Tamar Garb from University College London and Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A. Sponsored by Standard Bank the V&A exhibition is not a come along in itself. Until the 31st July 2011 the V&A Photography Gallery will display ‘Lifetimes: Under Apartheid’ by David Goldblatt. Besides, there is a selection of short films featuring interviews with the artists available to view on the V&A Channel. Moreover, there are panel discussions with artists, museum night views, talks, late opening, courses and workshops.


Written by davidfranchi

April 25, 2011 at 2:05 pm

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