Lebohang Kganye & Onthatile Modise, Reshot, Grandmother and children, 2011
Could you tell me about visual culture in Africa and how that influences your work?
Africa has a long legacy of visual, oral, performative and narrative methodologies which continue to influence our ideologies, perceptions and communications. And the arts therefore play a major role in defining, retrieving and understanding our histories and future strategies as well as our identities. Art is a part of a thriving contemporary culture throughout the world and far from being a luxury it is a basic human need that needs expression and these forms of various expressions must be questioned and critiqued to understand how we view ourselves and others. Africa - despite its varied arts and artistic heritage - has become stereotyped (especially through the means of photography) and how I constantly aim in my works through my focus on personal narratives to contest such stereotypes. My work constantly hopes to broaden the scope that is defined as ‘African photography’ in that homogenising poverty-porn images of Africa are subverted through subtle, personal narratives of individuals and communities that I develop a relationship with. In the projects I do, I raise questions around identity and the constant renegotiating of who we are in relation to our location and the narratives we create in order to situate ourselves in space and history.
What does Reshot reveal about the photographic archive itself? How did the people of Makweteng respond to the 're-shoot' and what kind of relationships were forged?
Reshot (2011), is a collaborative project with fellow Market Photo Workshop student Onthatile Modise, which explores the notion of the photographic archive from the point of personal histories of people from Makweteng, Potchefstroom. For our photographic interpretation of these personal archives, we were introduced to the people of Ikageng who were forcefully removed from Makweteng in the 1960s.
In order to collect the archival material from individuals, we would visit the residents in their homes in Ikageng, and asked them to tell us their life stories in Makweteng. We got to know the bearers of the personal archives by visiting them and we reshot these personal archives in their presence while they told us their memories of each photo. We photographed the historical photos they have of themselves living there. The relationships we formed were a bit weird, the residents responded differently on different days, we would be seen as friends today, outsiders tomorrow, then there would be moments we connect and others where there was this distance, almost awkwardness between us. They were keen on sharing their memories of certain photos, but some memories were held back, which is what the project also questions; what the bearer choses to reveal about the photo and the memories they choose to hold back, versus what the photo reveals to the viewer and what the viewer overlooks when attempting to interpret a photographic archive. So each ‘reshot’ photo is a creative response to memory, the imaginary and change.
The personal archive as a physical document forms part of a historical archive which can stand trial for social issues. Reshot also reveals the vulnerability of memory which bases itself upon a tangible thing such as a photograph, which can be torn, destroyed or lost, entrusting it to trigger or store their memories, ideals i.e. people portraying themselves in a certain way etc.
The work demonstrates my interest in the personal as a site of the political and hopes to be evidence of the political in the personal - thus personal narratives resonate with larger political and social issues and the project makes evident these intersections via an interrogation of intimate narratives
In S’phamandla you specifically chose not to depict the residents of the Johannesburg squatter camps. Could you talk more about this decision and your visual interrogation of these camps?
S’phamandla (2009-2010) body of work also continues to explore issues of home, identity and displacement by documenting this housing settlement in Johannesburg which had been relocated several times by the South African government, with a promise of better housing, which never materialized. The intention of this project was to visually interrogate the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) initiated after 1994. S’phamandla is a squatter-camp situated on the outskirts of a township called Katlehong, which is located in the south-east of Johannesburg. The project deals with its people having a longing for a sense of belonging, with the anticipation of the change-over of moving from shacks and informal settlements to proper houses. The place carries the weight of social, political and historical change and the beauty that the community have created in the midst of it all. The informal constructions bore the traces of these various resettlements in various ways (for example shacks had different housing/lot numbers painted on their facades each time they were moved). Colour is linked to the idea of choice, freedom and expression, much like the flawed concept of the idea of the “rainbow nation”. The informal structures often have strong colourful exteriors and most have a clearly visible marker in bright paint representing the number of an address. The addresses are brightly marked; the marking is a ritual of becoming visible as each number is an attempt to mark the identity of the ‘home owner’. This project for me is personal since I pass the place every day and move through the space constantly and have come to interact with people from this community daily. The composition in these images is focuses on the aesthetics of each shack which seems to have a unique sense of character in its style of construction. The structures that form this squatter-camp are constructed of brightly coloured corrugated-iron, with a coloured door and on some, a brightly painted window or merely a unique feature, so the project focuses on the aesthetics of each shack which represents these people and their sense of pride and integrity in their private spaces which they, themselves, have built. Though the place carries such heavy social, political and historical issues, the beauty that these people have created in the midst of it all is what the project aims to show. Thus I chose not to depict the residents and further objectify them as much of documentary photography featuring poverty tends to do. Pride (2009) is an image of a silver shack with a door covered in strips of paint, uniformly painted with two white, two yellow and five orange vertical lines, looking like a like a discontinued vertical rainbow. There is a round lock on a chain by the door, and the door has no handle… just a hole where there was once might have been a handle. Number “63” is written four times on the front of the shack, but a different number appears on other parts of the shack (B500). The latter marks the relocation and the changing of identity in the process, while the inhabitants desperately try to hold on to their identity with the repetition of number sixty three. Ironically, there is a Pride maize meal sack hanging on the left of the shack.
Hanging (2009) is an image of an unpainted shack with a bold, blue door, blue window frame, blue number “102”, yellow number “S289 STM” and a red number “57” painted on the shack. These numbers mark the different times the occupants have relocated and had to be marked like cattle by its owner. The handle on the door is turned upside-down, like their lives by the relocation. The corrugated iron roof top is shielded by a dusty navy piece of tent, to keep out the raindrops. The washing line put together with planks leans casually on the left side of the shack, like a re-constructed cross of faith, desperately trying to be held-up.
In understanding the process of the departure, the arrival and the wait, it becomes clear how people mark and map their spaces because people are constantly negotiating their lives through negotiating human space. The body of work in its style is a portrait of space; the structures represent the voice and identity of these people and how these become the traces of a neglected and forgotten history. S’phamandla is a remnant of a time of issues of segregation and marginalisation; it exists as a monument of the rise and “fall” of apartheid.
The government regulates where people live and organise to their convenience rather than the community which inhabits a space. Questions around the ownership of land are interrogated and why South African land is dispersed as it is by the government. S’phamandla highlights displacement and how it gets manifested in the history of South Africa, because a squatter-camp is often a border quite ingrained in South Africa’s history.
22 years old
Katlehong, a township in the East Rand of Johannesburg, South Africa.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
An assignment in matric in high school introduced me to the works of Kevin Carter and the Bang- Bang Club. Their photojournalistic images awakened in me a realisation of the power of photography and in 2009, a year later I started my studies in photography.
Where did you go to school? What did you study?
In 2009, I began my studies in photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa. I recently completed three courses in photography.
Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?
Through the training I have received throughout the three years, I have grown to understand the role of photography in society and how it influences change. Beyond the theory, studying photography has given me an understanding of the practical and technical side of the medium.
What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology? Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?
My photographic work – which includes documentary and visual art photography – explores ideas of memory, identity, location, space and the idea of belonging.
During my high school years, I was introduced to the world of performance art, and was mentored by renowned performance artists in this genre. For my remaining three years in high school, my life centred around poetry, drama and storytelling. During this time I performed alongside these artists in Botswana and at various stages around Johannesburg, such as the Market Theatre and at the University of the Witwatersrand. My general interests – be it in poetry, performance and photography – have centred around my personal journeys and issues of black woman’s identity and power relations. Spoken and written word have been platforms for me to interact with other people and share personal experiences and memories. Art has in a way defined my life as a young Black woman from Katlehong in terms of allowing me expression of my creative thoughts, emotions and intelligence; it has been an avenue for me to critically engage with personal and wider social issues as well as history, politics and economics - not just of my own life, but in understanding the trajectory of the not-so-new South Africa and importantly with the rest of the African continent, the global South and the rest of the world.
What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?
I do commercial/commissioned work for a living, I’ve worked at the Market Photo Workshop and Sibisi Gallery. This work is very separate from my art practice, though it allows me to be in spaces of art discussion and discourses around art.
Who are your key artistic influences?
Cindy Sherman, Destiny Deacon, Sharlene Khan, Zwelethu Mthethwa, David Goldblatt and Santu Mofokeng.
Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?
Yes, I collaborated on a project with Onthatile Modise while we were studying together, on the series Reshot which we produced on the community in Potchefstroom. It has been exhibited as part of the Tracing Territories group exhibition which entailed ten bodies of work by eleven photographers from the Market Photo Workshop. Tracing Territories was presented as an outdoor exhibition as well as a screening in and around Tlokwe on the 17th and 18th February 2012. An extension of this work was being shown in Johannesburg at the Market Photo Workshop Gallery which ran from 29 February – 25 April 2012.
Do you actively study art history?
Yes, because I believe that it’s important to know your craft. By studying the history of photography as a subject in school, it has helped me to understand the global discourse of art.
Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?
I enjoy reading philosophy, critical theory and creative writing i.e. poetry, authors that influence the conceptualization of my projects are Maya Angelou, Bell Hooks, Fouad Asfour, Kabomo Vilakazi, Napo Masheane and Gcina Mhlophe.
Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?
The right to freedom of artistic expression versus the right to human dignity is under debate in South Africa and which holds priority over another, which I am quite interested in, and to what degree artist are at liberty to interrogate social issues and whether art is read differently on the basis of race. Also I’m curious whether the space one chooses to show their work in influences how the work is read and somehow changes its context i.e. showing documentary images in a gallery space. Such as showing images of poverty or violence in a commercial gallery or arts magazine instead of a newspaper; does it then shift meaning depending on where it is shown, because the audiences are different.