The Walther Collection continues its focus on contemporary photography from Africa with the first dialogic exhibition of works by Santu Mofokeng (1956-2020) and David Goldblatt (1930-2018) at its museum campus in Neu-Ulm. Drawn from its extensive holdings and curated entirely out of the Collection, the exhibition curated by art historian Tamar Garb opens dynamic spaces for re-evaluation and re-interpretation by interweaving the works of these extraordinary photographers.
Structured around three overarching themes and sub-chapters, this unique curatorial approach offers new ways of looking at the oeuvres of Mofokeng and Goldblatt, allowing for surprising juxtapositions and new insights to emerge. Both men set out to picture everyday life and experience in South Africa during Apartheid and its aftermath. But where they are often positioned in contrast to one another, with Goldblatt understood as the insightful social documentarian and Mofokeng as the visionary poet, this exhibition aims to question such a separation and to allow the images to traverse preconceived labels and patterns of perception. By combining their works in novel ways the exhibition seeks to draw out the distinctiveness of each while questioning the binaries through which they are customarily viewed.
The exhibition is organized in three thematic sections that unite Mofokeng’s and Goldblatt’s works: Earthscapes, Edifices and Sociality.
Earthscapes is devoted to Mofokeng and Goldblatt’s photographic investigations of landscape and explores how its topography is affected by culture and human habitation. The appearance of the landscape is always shaped by the events that have taken place within it. Both Goldblatt and Mofokeng were fascinated by the traces and residues of the past, imprinted on the surface of the land and etched in the very shapes it assumes. Subject to political, environmental, and historical forces, the landscape simultaneously reveals and conceals its history. Both Goldblatt and Mofokeng explored what a photograph can do to evoke the layered accretions of time and the socially inflected space of the land.
Edifices turns to South African dwellings, their physical structures as well as their social fabric and situation — in the street, on the slopes, in the margins. Goldblatt and Mofokeng’s works explore what defines home and the forces by which this space – physical and psychic – can be easily and ruthlessly destroyed. The fragility and precarity of shelter, alongside those who build and inhabit its frames are explored. So too are the impenetrable edifices of whiteness and the permeable structures that house the racialized poor, always vulnerable to the vagaries of political bureaucracy and power. The streets, saturated with signage, function as places of social interaction and offer a particular image of this land. Both photographers explore how the segregated past plays out in the movement and flows of people, subject to the infrastructures of city and State. But they also look askance, beyond the official narratives to what escapes and exceeds expectation.
Sociality explores the way that social experience is played out in photography. It brings together images of people, most often in groups, and explores the contacts and contexts they share — in intimate interiors, on the daily commute, in worship and still contemplation. Ranging from the forensic particularity of a posed shot to the incidental capturing of movement and flow, these photographs capture the strangeness embedded in daily life, often glimpsed in half light and dark shadow, but always subject to the external structures and exigencies of the law. For Goldblatt and Mofokeng surface appearance is a conduit to interiority, the rhythms of light and dark, shadow and shaft, mobilized to reveal a sentience and subjectivity that is experienced at the level of the individual but is always historically informed.