Over the last decade, a large corpus of photographic output by African photographers, has come also to Western public's attention and therefore contributed to greater awareness of twentieth-century African modernity. This show - for the first time in Austria - presents the work of two generations of South African photographers:
David Goldblatt (born 1930, Randfontein), Santu Mofokeng (born 1956, Johannesburg) and Zwelethu Mthethwa (born 1960, Durban).
„These photographers have established artistic initiatives that build their own critical operations outside the imagistic traditions of the West, and consequently have loosed upon the field of visual culture an immense process of reassessment of cultural practices often attributed only to Europe and North America“. (Lauri Firstenberg, 2001) Furthermore their conceptual modes of photographic production negotiates critically the hypersaturation of images of South Africa by documentary/photojournalistic tradition of apartheid and postapartheid.
DAVID GOLDBLATT's explorations of South African society since the early sixties seem to be a relentless probe into the layered substructure of his place and time. Goldblatt's abortive attempts against apartheid forced him into an early understanding that he would not find meaning in the big events, the public face of violence. Instead, he sought out the world of ordinary people, the minutiae of everyday life that so illuminate the deep structure of injustice and the essence of the people who imposed and defied it.
The Particulars series – parts of it shown in the gallery - has been an ongoing project, which spans through the seventies and eighties. He portrays particular fragments and derails of bodies in both public and private spaces. The work captures the essence of Goldblatt's ambivalence – his belonging to, and alienation from, the ugliness, the impossible contradictions, of South African life.
„Landscape is the mute witness to histories and narratives...“
We show a selection from his b/w series of Township Billboards, which started in 1989.
„Billboards have been the medium of communication between the rulers and the denizens of townships since the beginning. The billboard is a fact and feature of township landscape. It is a relic from the times when Africans were subjects of power and the township was a restricted area, subject to laws, municipality by laws and ordinances regulating people's movements and governing who may or may not enter the township. It is without irony when I say that billboards can be used as reference points when plotting the history and development of the township. Billboards capture and encapsulate ideology, the social, economic and political climate at any given time. They retain their appeal for social engineering. (...) At the high speed of a minibus taxi, the billboards roll by like flipping pages in a book. The retina registers arcane and inane messages about sex and cell-phones, mostly sex and cell-phones. Perhaps this is a coincidence. I wonder.“ Santu Mofokeng, 2003
is renowned for his ongoing series of portraits of South African urban migrants. In Empty Beds, a series of color photographs, Mthethwa continues his exploration of the aesthetics of space: the physical conditions of South African urban living, as well as the emotional, psychical conditions of its inhabitants. In these photographs space functions as surrogate for his subjects. It provides a ready-made setting wherein the body remains legible even in its absence. Space represents signage and decor symbolic of the economics and cultural politics of the many informal settlements.
The film Flex (2002) looks at skin from an abstract exercise in texture and light, playing with recognisable body parts against their movement. The synthesis and juxtaposition of the rhytmically moving body parts create a specific sound in the viewers mind.