Standard Bank Gallery presents Photographs in Our Mother Tongue

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Standard Bank Gallery presents Photographs in Our Mother Tongue

An exhibition from the Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection

Photographs in Our Mother Tongue

The Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg

(Virtual exhibition)

Opens from 15 April 2021

 

Siyakhuluma ngolimi lwethu.

Re bua ka puo ea rona.

Ons praat in ons eie taal.

 

We know how it feels to speak in our mother tongue. But does this feeling translate into sight? How do we look at the world – as black, brown, or white people? Do we see differently as public figures and private citizens? As urban hustlers and rural travelers? As he, she or they?

 

The Standard Bank Gallery’s first exhibition for 2021 offers a range of answers to these questions. Photographs in Our Mother Tongue includes images from the Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection produced by major South African artists working in the photographic medium between 2003 and 2017.

 

These years of transition in South African society were also a period during which photography became a more prominent feature of the country’s visual arts scene. The iconic images of the preceding decades were mostly associated with photographers working in an urgent documentary and journalistic context – recording life under apartheid and the early years of democracy. The works collected in Photographs in Our Mother Tongue are evidence of a shift towards a more reflective and experimental approach. This change notably overlapped with developments in photographic technology (from analogue to digital) and an altering media landscape (the increasing role of smartphones and social media in the circulation of imagery).

 

The title of the exhibition was inspired by the ability of photography as a medium to communicate strong and compelling messages. It invites viewers to reimagine photography and its power to capture themes and images that are quintessentially South African – as if these photographs are communicating to us in a language we understand, in our mother tongue.

 

In a number of the works exhibited in Photographs in Our Mother Tongue – by Mohau Modisakeng, Mary Sibande, Hasan and Husain Essop, Kathryn Smith and Candice Breitz – the artists use themselves as subjects,or recreate versions of themselves. These are not, however, simply self-portraits; the photographer-subject adopts a persona, plays a part, prompting the viewer to question our assumption that photographs capture “real life” moments.

 

Other images are partially or fully obscured portraits: in photographs by Berni Searle, Jane Alexander, Minette Vári, Pierre Croquet and Sabelo Mlangeni, the subjects are viewed from below or behind, masked, blurred, distorted and silhouetted. We can only guess at their identities, situations and stories. Contrastingly, in Nontsikelelo Veleko, Kudzanai Chiurai and Pieter Hugo’s work, the subject looks directly at the camera. These portraits show, by turns, confidence and insecurity – and perhaps a combination of both, when a brash exteriority hides an anxious interiority.

 

And what about landscapes? While these might lure us into a lyrical response to the southern African countryside, they also carry reminders of human activity. In photographs by David Goldblatt, Guy Tillim, Bob Cnoops, Natasha Christopher, Daniel Naude, Obie Oberholzer and Georgia Papageorge, people are absent but the artist gestures towards their presence: humans impose themselves on, but are also at the mercy of, nature. Mikhael Subtozky teases the viewer with his takes on the traditional “solitary figure in a landscape”.

 

“Standard Bank shares the Corporate Art Collection with the public so they can experience the different perspectives of life through photography”, says Dr Same Mdluli, Standard Bank Gallery Manager and Curator, adding that the reality is that the artists capture and portray the images in their own imagination while interpreting life differently through the lens.

 

Andrew Tshabangu’s lens finds its focal point in people on city streets. Jo Ractliffe, like Tshabangu, depicts downtown Johannesburg – but she looks up the architecture, combining different perspectives on the urban jungle. Bridget Baker’s triptych also collapses multiple views or scenes into one work. And Santu Mofokeng and Marcus Neustetter, playing with light and dark, render the familiar into the eerily unfamiliar.

 

“Standard Bank shares the Corporate Art Collection with the public so they can experience the different perspectives of life through photography”, says Dr Same Mdluli, Standard Bank Gallery Manager and Curator, adding that the reality is that the artists capture and portray the images in their own imagination while interpreting life differently through the lens.

 

All of these photographers challenge the viewer to “look” differently, to “see” more than first appears to us in the image. They may be in a studio or in the open; in a place we recognise or in a dreamscape. Photography, here, is shown to be both an archive of the world we know and a tool for reshaping it, revisioning it, into something new.   

 

STANDARD BANK GALLERY

The Standard Bank Gallery is located on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick streets in central Johannesburg. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently closed to the public however the exhibition can be accessed virtually from 16 April 2021. More info to follow.

 

STANDARD BANK CORPORATE ART COLLECTION

The Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection is one of the finest and most representative of its kind in the country. The collection has been extended over four decades to include more than 1200 works by 250 South African artists. The artworks are housed mainly in offices and meeting rooms at the new Standard Bank headquarters in Rosebank, Simmonds Street, the Global Leadership Centre as well as other regional offices across the country. Collectively these works articulate the observations, aspirations and concerns of our country’s finest artists and reflect the physical, social and cultural fabric of South Africa in all its intriguing complexity.

 

 

 

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