INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr
Joburg-based visual artist and photographer Lebohang Kganye, whose work revolves around family, memories and representations of memory, talks to VISI about her artistic journey and what inspires her emotive work.
How did you get into art?
I actually started out writing poetry and stories and then doing theatre when I was in high school. It was never my intention to do art – I wanted to do African literature or journalism. I am reminded of a photograph I saw, taken during the Sudan war when there was famine, by Kevin Carter. It depicts a girl crouched on the ground with a vulture waiting for the child to die of starvation so it can eat her. Of her body I recall only her belly, touching her knees, which were on the ground. This was my introduction to photography. So, when I finished high school, I went to study photography at the Market Photo Workshop. I had a strong desire to incorporate my interest in literature and performance into my photography practice.
What does a typical day look like?
One of my main challenges at the moment is finding balance between administration, research, reading and creating art. In an ideal world, I would only be creating art and reading, with zero administration work. But a typical day is mostly spent on my laptop, then reading and trying to create in the evening.
Your work is so striking. What influences you?
As a photographer, turning the camera to myself, it happened so organically. I felt an urgency to become the author and the subject, exposing myself to the public, showing my vulnerabilities, my desires, my contradictions and my feelings of always having to play “catch-up”. Photography has allowed me to find a platform for my pre-occupation with exploring my identity and its complexities.
Photography makes me uncomfortable – having my photograph taken and taking a photograph of someone else. So this process becomes a space of negotiation for me, me taking my photograph, having someone take my photograph or taking a photograph of someone else. At the moment, my work speaks about my desire to understand history and politics in an attempt to mediate my position.
What mediums do you use?
While I am a primarily a photographer, my photography often incorporates my interest in sculpture and performance. My practice is evolving – I have been experimenting in animation and sculpture, which is evident in my new work Ke Sale Teng and Tell Tale.
What processes do you follow when creating your work?
I am recognised as a photographer and my artistic practice is a mix between installation or performance. I create sets, sculpt the paper and the final result is a photograph.
I initially began navigating my history through geographic mapping, attempting to trace where my family originated and how we ended up in these different spaces that we all now call home. I visited the different locations where my family lived in South Africa and found many old family photo albums. I realised that family albums are a significant part of family histories – the photographs are more than documentation of personal narratives, they become prized possessions, hearkening back to a certain event, a certain person and a particular time. Family photographs are more than just a memory of moments or people who have passed on, or reassurance of an existence. They are also vehicles to a fantasy that allows for a momentary space to “perform” ideals of “family-ness” and become visual constructions of who we think we are and hope to be, yet at the same time being an erasure of reality. I realised how the family album is composed of a selection of what shall be remembered and forgotten, therefore our histories become orchestrated fictions, imagined histories.
Do your pieces tell a story?
My photographic journey seems to be a deep response to loss and mourning – not just of different individuals, but of history, language and oral culture. It is about memory, fantasy, identity formation and performance. Through the process of attempting to trace this history, I have discovered that identity cannot be made fully tangible, just like the products of a camera. It is a site for the performance of dreams and the staging of narratives of contradiction and half-truths as well as those of erasure, denial and hidden truths. A family identity, therefore, becomes an orchestrated fiction and a collective invention.
Any local or international artists who you love, or think we should check out?
Santu Mofokeng, Mary Sibande, Kara Walker, Nandipha Mntambo and William Kentridge.
Any exciting plans for the future?
I will be doing my postgraduate studies over the next few years, which I am excited about. I have just exhibited my first large-scale installation, which I will be developing further over the next few months.
See more of Lebohang’s work at lebohangkganye.co.za.