Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 17 Feb 2017 - 19 Apr 2017
Andrew Tshabangu, Naledi-Bree Street Bus, from the series City in Transition, 2004. Courtesy the artist and Gallery MOMO
In a career spanning more than two decades, Andrew Tshabangu has established himself as one of the most important photographers of and in contemporary South Africa – Johannesburg, in particular.
Born in Soweto in 1966, Tshabangu inherited the mantle of those artists and journalists whose work documented what curator Thembinkosi Goniwe calls “the bearable lightness of being black in the world”. Yet Tshabangu’s black-and-white photography moves beyond the documentary mode; in his work, realism merges with otherworldly elements. Moreover, the viewer’s engagement with the subject is framed, interrupted, blurred or fragmented as the photographer experiments with ways of seeing and interpreting that much-contested place and time, “post-apartheid South Africa”.
Hlonipha Mokoena, situating Tshabangu in a trajectory that includes David Goldblatt, Santu Mofokeng, the Afrapix Collective and the Market Photo Workshop, writes: “What is at stake in this exhibition of Tshabangu’s body of work is the unresolved question of what a ‘post-apartheid’ aesthetics should look like. Although for some, it is still too early to pronounce on what kind of ‘moment’ South Africa is in.” The extent to which the country has or hasn’t changed since 1994 remains a topic of debate, and this contestation provides a valuable context in which to situate the images displayed in Footprints.
The Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg’s CBD provides an appropriate platform for an exhibition of photographs that have both contributed to, and have subverted, the city’s iconography. Tshabangu’s lens ranges from busy public spaces to interior scenes that are emptied of their usual inhabitants. He is as fascinated by religious pilgrimages and devout ceremonies as by more mundane rituals – daily activities like washing clothes, baking bread, carrying firewood, waiting for transport or brewing beer.
The scope of the exhibition extends beyond greater Johannesburg, and indeed beyond South Africa’s borders. Tshabangu has travelled widely, making and studying new “footprints”. In Durban and, further up the African east coast, in Mozambique and Malawi, on Réunion Island and even as far afield as New York City, Tshabangu has encountered landscapes and seascapes, cultures and peoples far removed from landlocked Jozi.