Monday, July 15, 2024

‘Realities of apartheid’: South African artist wins Deutsche Börse photography prize

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The South African artist Lebohang Kganye has won the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation prize for her work that uses large-scale cutouts and elements of set design to trace and depict her family history during the apartheid era.

The Johannesburg-based artist took home the £30,000 prize for her winning exhibition, which is on display at the Photographers’ Gallery in central London and is called Haufi nyana? I’ve come to take you home.

In it Kganye – who was born in 1990, in the dying days of apartheid, uses cutout figures and objects that depict scenes from stories she was told by her family. The artist sometimes appears in the scenes, acting them out dressed as her relatives.

Combining oral history, family photo albums and theatrical stages, the result is work that the judges said “reflects on the realities and consequences of apartheid and colonialism”.

Anne-Marie Beckmann, the director of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, said: “It was a strong shortlist full of powerful images and long-term projects but we thought that Lebohang’s work experimented with the medium by combining photography and archival material from her family in a new and fresh way.”

The Indian artists Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad were shortlisted for their book Fields of Sight, which combined photography and Warli painting. Photograph: Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad

Claire Grafik, the chair of the judging panel and acting director of the Photographers’ Gallery, said: “Her work implicated the audience through the installation and the use of these freestanding collages where audiences become part of the experience. There’s no distance between the work and the audience – her use of theatre to bring the audience into conversation with the artwork was something that we really loved.”

The themes of family and story have been central to Kganye’s work since she emerged in the early 2010s. A breakout early work was Her-Story, in 2013, where she recreated images of her late mother, dressing up as her and overlaying images of herself depicting the same scene.

Kganye briefly worked in TV production and her cutout work was inspired by set designers, while she also used elements of theatre, literature and sculpture.

Lebohang’s cutout work was inspired by theatre set design. Photograph: Lebohang Kganye

Haufi nyana?, which means “too close” in the Sesotho language, recalls stories about her family’s migration, caused by land acts and apartheid law, while she also explores the alternation of her family’s surname, which means “light” in Sesotho.

This year’s other nominated artists, who will each receive £5,000, all created work that touched on the themes of trauma or displacement.

Valie Export, the Austrian artist whose work has long focused on the female body, was also nominated alongside the Indian artists Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad – shortlisted for their book Fields of Sight, which combined photography and intricate Warli painting.

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Hrair Sarkissian, the grandson of Armenia genocide refugees, who was born and raised in Damascus, was shortlisted for his work about loss, trauma and untold stories rediscovered after conflict.

Hrair Sarkissian was among the runners-up, who all touched on the themes of trauma or displacement. Photograph: Hrair Sarkissian

Sarkissian, who has previously created work about the mass killings in Spain during the Franco era, was nominated for Last Seen, an exhibition that focuses on “disappeared” people who went missing during conflicts and is a series of images taken in their last known location.

Beckmann said the 2024 shortlisted work all played with questions of “displacement”, “heritage” and “giving voices to unheard communities”.

“If you look at Sarkissian’s work, he’s been going to different countries whether in Kosovo or Argentina or other regions. It’s putting a light on work that is perhaps hidden. The same goes for Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad’s work and Valie Export, who was creating very provocative work about feminism in the 1970s – which is definitely still needed.”

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