Exhibitions, Portrait

The Post-Apartheid State of South Africa

Image © Mohau Modisakeng, courtesy Tyburn Gallery

The first solo exhibition of South African photographer Mohau Modisakeng is about to go on show in London's Tyburn Gallery.

Mohau Modisakeng, one of the most promising young South African artists today, was born in Soweto, Johannesburg in 1986 and lives and works between Johannesburg and Cape Town. He studied at Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town. In 2016 he was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art, the most prestigious award in Africa.

His new work’s title, Bophirima, is from the artist’s mother tongue Setswana, meaning ‘West’ or ‘where the sun sets’, but can also be interpreted as ‘twilight’ or ‘before dusk’.

The series reflects on his own personal experiences of growing up in Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South Africa, with central themes which revolve around violence, labour, security and ritual.

Originally trained in sculpture, Modisakeng uses the technique of the self-portrait – through large-scale photographs, performance and video installations – to mediate on his own identity and the political processes within his country.

The artist uses his body to explore the influence of South Africa’s violent history, allowing his body to represent a marker of collective history.

Modisakeng says: “The real work for me is in relating the visual signs and symbols of the abstract – be it in music or in my dreams – into a narrative that resonates with the collective social experience.”

“The social, political and economic systems inherited from colonial rule have remained entrenched, with the result that the lives of most of the population, other than those of the new elites, have not changed markedly.  Economic resources continue to be in control of a small minority, with the overwhelming majority of people struggling to make a living in a climate in which the odds remain stacked against them,” the Tyburn gallery said of Modisakeng’s work.

In South Africa, Apartheid has left an ongoing legacy of political corruption which has hampered efforts to address historical injustices. Levels of economic inequality remain among the worst in the world, a situation which has worsened in the face of mass unemployment and poor economic growth.

Widespread poverty and the failure to redress the injustices of the past “have contributed to an environment in which anxiety, unrest and conflict predominate.”

Modisakeng, therefore, reflects on the legacy of colonialism and its effect on post-independence societies in Africa.

Modisakeng’s work has been exhibited at Kunstraum Innsbruck, Austria (2015); MoCADA, New York (2015); Museum of Fine Art, Boston (2014); 21C Museum, Kentucky, Massachusetts (2014); IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2014); Saatchi Gallery, London (2012); and the Dak’Art Biennale, Dakar (2012), among others.

His works form part of large public collections, such as the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, the Saatchi Gallery and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA).

For more information, see here.