Figures & Fictions / "A self-conscious engagement with South Africa's political and photographic past"



I love South Africa and photography. As such, I am very excited about the new Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography show opening in the UK at the Victoria and Albert Museum (Apr 12 - Jul 17) featuring the work of 17 South African photographers. I've shared some of my favorites below.

Creative statement: Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography highlights the work of 17 South African photographers, all of whom live and work in the country and whose images were made between 2000 and 2010. Each photographer is represented by one or more projects that are linked by the depiction of people and a self-conscious engagement with South Africa's political and photographic past.

[...] The excitement and urgency surrounding photography in South Africa today is partly explained by its local context: embedded in colonial history, ethnography, anthropology, journalism and political activism, the best photography emerging from the country has absorbed and grapples with its weighty history, questioning, manipulating and revivifying its visual codes and blending them with contemporary concerns. Post-Apartheid, complex and fundamental issues - race, society, gender, identity - remain very much on the surface. This is reflected by image makers who harness the resulting scenes as a form of creative tension within their personal vision. Here, distinctive photographic voices have emerged: local in character and subject matter, but of wider international interest because of their combined intensity.” (source)



{'Untitled I', Kudzanai Chiurai, 2009. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery}

Kudzanai Chiurai, born 1981
“Chiurai was born in Zimbabwe and his early work focussed on the political, economic and social situation of his homeland. Now living in Johannesburg, he is an activist and artist (painter, designer, editor and photographer) who addresses issues such as xenophobia, displacement, consumerism and black empowerment in his work.

His satirical series The Parliament depicts the fictitious characters of an imaginary government cabinet in a parody of media representations of masculinity and political power.” (source)



{'Pieter and Maryna Vermeulen with Timana Phosiwa', Pieter Hugo. © Pieter Hugo. Courtesy of Michael Stevenson, Cape Town}

Pieter Hugo, born 1976
“Hugo, based in Cape Town, began his career as a photojournalist. For him documentary photography is: 'a type of ecstatic experience where one looks at the pictures and one experiences truth, even if it's not the truth of an accountant'.

The selection here includes a group portrait from the series Messina/Musina that raises questions about race and the nature of the family. Another work shows young Xhosa men in tweeds, the customary dress for initiates, after circumcision.” (source)



{'Madlisa' (Country Girls Series), Sabelo Mlangeni, 2009. © Sabelo Mlangeni. Courtesy of Michael Stevenson, Cape Town}

Sabelo Mlangeni, born 1980
“Mlangeni lives and works in Johannesburg. Describing himself as a 'camera man', he is engaged with the documentary tradition and produces visual essays, gaining access over long periods to overlooked subcultures and communities.

...Mlangeni uses soft focus shots and close-ups to move beyond this stereotypical image of it as a violent and unlawful place and to convey glimpses of male intimacy and daily life.The Country Girls series was taken over a period of six years. It is a personalized portrait of gay life in rural areas. The 'girls' are cross-dressing men whom Mlangeni photographs clothed as he finds them, and who perform self-consciously for the camera.” (source)



{'Gail' (from the series Real Beauty), Jodi Bieber, 2008. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery}

Jodi Bieber, born 1967
“Bieber, a Johannesburg-based photographer, began her career as a photojournalist and remains engaged with the documentary tradition. Real Beauty relates to the culture of advertising and Western ideals of female body shape, increasingly influential in South Africa.” (source)



{'Untitled' (from The Brave Ones series), Zwelethu Mthethwa, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York}

Zwelethu Mthethwa, born 1960
“Mthethwa, a painter and photographer, is based in Cape Town. His series The Brave Ones shows ceremonially dressed Zulu boys and men from the Shembe religious community. The costume they wear is usually reserved for ritual dancing and worship at annual festivals. Here, however, Mthethwa isolates his subjects from the context of the festival and poses them against the Arcadian landscape of Kwa Zulu Natal.

The mixed visual code of Shembe ceremonial dress (shirts and ties, football socks, and skirts worn as kilts) combines references to Scottish Highlanders, once stationed in the region, with traditional African costume, while blurring the boundaries between masculine and feminine fashion.” (source)



{'Lesego, Miriam Makeba Street, Newtown, Johannesburg', Nonsikelelo Veleko, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery}

Nonsikelelo Veleko, born 1977
“Veleko is a Johannesburg-based photographer who explores the inventive dress, style and confidence of South Africa's 'born free' generation that has grown up after the end of Apartheid. Playing with the language of fashion photography and media representations of street culture, Veleko's images question how personal style and individuality are perceived and assumed in a post-modern African city.” (source)