Muzane’s Weblog


Perceptions challanged
August 26, 2009, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Press Articles

by Anthea Buys

Almost as certainly as there will be traffic on Empire Road and brown grass in winter, Johannesburg seems forever fated to produce documentary photographers.
Whether or not they choose to label themselves as such, Jozi’s photographers-in-training and their respective schools have a penchant for the literal, for testimony and for the moralizing potential of the photographic image.

The close relationship between documentary-style photography and fine art galleries in South Africa no doubt has its roots in the struggle era, when some galleries provided a forum for photographic content and photographers who would have battled to find a voice in the mainstream media.  The documentary-style image cannot but raise questions about the context of its display, and today it is doubtful that the conventions of the gallery will always provide the best frame for the photographic expose’, tribute or essay.

Zanele Muholi’s solo exhibition at Brodie/Stevenson, Faces and Phases, illustrates this conundrum.  The body of work is a series of black-and-white portraits concerned with “the commemoration and celebration of black lesbians’ lives” that set out to “challenge” the public’s perceptions of gender identity.  The curatorial statement frames the work of artistic activism, the photographer’s response to “violation, rape and murder of innocents because of their sexualities and ethnicities.” There is no doubt that Muholi has something important – even urgent—to say, but one wonders about the intended effects of her statement on the artsy neo-liberals who tend to frequent Brodie/Stevenson’s openings.

The premise underlying credibility as an artist-activist is that the photographic image validates its subject and, in this instance, that the gallery exhibition automatically gives value to its contents.  Both ideas are highly questionable, but in South Africa at least, they are still the ticket for many photographers to the fine art cattle market we know and love.

Source: Mail & Guardian / July 10-16, 2009
http://www.mg.co.za 

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