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3.5.2021   |  Art And About Africa

Alice Mann, Lebohang Kganye, Portraits in Dialogue, at the Boxes Art Museum in China

Afronova Gallery announces the exhibition of two acclaimed artists Alice Mann, Lebohang Kganye, Portraits in Dialogue, Curated by Lee Ambrozy at the Boxes Art Museum in China.

Words by Lee Ambrozy
Alice Mann’s portraiture documents collectives and shared aspirations through the strength of individuals. She reflects the craft of the traditional documentary photographer; using negative film and medium format cameras, tripods and lights she negotiates her presence and intent with her “subjects.” She holds space before her lens to maximize performativity, creative agency and self expression, and minimizes her own role to mere technique, composition and color. But she is also the custodian of these personalities as they are received on a global stage. This interracial aspect to her portraiture can also be read as a radical act, at least one that forces difficult conversations.

The mutual trust between Mann and the people before her lens defines her collaborative approach to portraiture. Their gazes, presence, and willingness to confront the world via her portraiture speaks also to layered issues of power structures in narratives, and in representation. While her approach strives for objectivity. But is an “honest” portrait possible? What might a direct, plain photographic language entail?

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Lebohang Kganye’s approach to photography is rooted in materiality; she expands images into our three-dimensional space and presents photographs as documents that retell old narratives; she uses them to reclaim histories and confront the past with the latent hope for reframing the future. Kganye updates a storytellers’ tradition using visual narratives and drawing on family relationships that also reflect the collective experience. Deeply personal, the Sesotho language, preserved in the titles, informs her work and demonstrates how language shapes how we read the world, although translation can sometimes hinder true dialogue. In Ke Lefe Laka / Her Story, Kganye’s mothers’ snapshots inspire memories and a constellation of activities. The intimate portraiture overlapped with self portraiture documents family histories and evidences the Apartheid era, the “ghosts” she creates link her to the past and alter her relationship to history. These overlapped images attempt to collapse/fold time, to make a single moment span decades.

Observing how these works dialogue, and meditating on personal vs. collective experiences / identities and race, contemporary vs. historical portraiture, we might witness various levels of semiotic operations that effect our experiences and reception. How has self-fashioning played a role for the South African sitters and the various photographers? How does their artistic gaze and the gazes of their subjects participate in the viewers’ space? And behind the curtain of the lens, what is concealed or exposed?

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