Landmark Exhibition by Lebohang Kganye at the Boschendal x Brundyn Gallery, on Boschendal Estate

Lebohang Kganye

In February 2024, Brundyn Arts & Culture (BA&C) will present a landmark exhibition by contemporary South African photographer Lebohang Kganye at the Boschendal x Brundyn gallery, on Boschendal Estate.

This event will include the preview of The Sea is History comprising four large-scale pop-up sculptures on the historic grounds of Boschendal Werf and a solo exhibition Mmoloki wa Mehopolo: Breaking Bread with a Wanderer inside the Manor House. This presentation not only elevates the artist’s sculptural practice but also marks Kganye’s first significant presentation in South Africa. The exhibition coincides with the start of Cape Town Art Week – an exciting and creative season concentrated in the urban hub of the city – by offering a unique experience that extends this energy to the Cape Winelands.

We are particularly excited to highlight Kganye’s artistic growth and ability to raise profound questions through her work. She is an artist radically redefining the field of photography by expanding it beyond its traditional two-dimensionality. By innovating photography’s material quality, her practice transcends the conventional boundaries of the medium and offers deeper explorations of heritage, migration, and family archives. In so doing, she creates rich technical, material, and conceptual juxtapositions between light and shadow, memory and history, and the persistent impact of storytelling.

In this exhibition Kganye also invites audiences to join in an immersive journey of discovery with four life-size interactive sculptures.

In her latest exhibition titled Mmoloki wa Mehopolo: Breaking Bread with the Wanderer, and its conduit The Sea is History (2024), Kganye stages another encounter for viewers to acquaint themselves with her ever expanding process of self-imagining. Like her previous showing, this exhibition infers a presence that protects memories. In it, she orchestrates an ensemble of sculptures, photographs and steel pop-up books into a conversation that unravels like a labyrinth, never quite readable at first glance and deliberate in making the eye search for nodal points of meaning. This exhibitions draws its aesthetical strength from the way in which Kganye complicates understandings of traditional mediums such as sculpture and photography. In this undertaking, she gestures towards newer, emerging forms of both photography and sculpture making to introduce, at least within her own artistic repertoire, photo-sculpture.

Kganye’s ambition with this exhibition is flagrant. Keeping with her propensity to communicate a deeply personal soliloquy that oscillates between themes of identity, migration, displacement, (be)longing, and kinship, the theatrical is once again recalibrated to pursue a process of self-knowing. This is why her largely scaled monochromatic wooden photo-sculptures speak and gesture as though they inhabit a real lifeworld. And yet, as we might further observe, the implicit triumph of Kganye’s new body of work lies in its ability to also recenter issues of materiality; indeed, inherent in this work is an attempt to disrupt the normative understanding of a photo as an image or a photo as an object. In a strong sense, this body of work evidences the finesse in her artistic thinking as she provokes thoughts on how audiences can begin to comprehend photo-sculpture as a legible medium on its own terms. Certain from this innovation in her work is that her continued explorations of memory find fuller expression.

There is an unintelligible preoccupation that befalls Lebohang Kganye’s work, a paradox if you will; it is as though her photographs are at once defined by something patient that is at work in them yet equally urgent. There is too, evidently, an ardent inclination to elude the ephemerality of memory, a yearning to surface its materiality. It is true, Kganye, once an aspirant litterateur, imputes through her artistic practice a productive capacity to give form to a psycho-symbolic terrain that rearticulates the political in the personal. That her work’s intricate languaging is rooted in memory is a half-truth that Teju Cole, we shall take from the epigraph, labours to express. But Kganye’s work, we should further distil, also performs a different affective labour: it retrieves the most salient parts of memory to announce a temporally bifurcated world whose loci, oscillating between habitable pasts and unfathomable presents, instantiates a poetics of self-imagining.

There is undoubtedly a surplus of meanings and heaps of complexity undergirding Kganye’s work, her search for herself and kin. She reveals that, “through this process of attempting to trace my history, I have discovered that identity cannot be traced.”[2] This here is not a sentiment rooted in pathos; probing deeper, we can rightly infer Kganye’s examination of South Africa’s deeply troubled racialised history that has shaped her own lineage, as it has shaped the country’s. There is here a memory of an abjection so perverse that it weakens familial ties and bonds. Kganye is relentless in pursuing this very inquiry: in bodies of work such as  Ke Lefa Laka (2013), Pied Pipers Voyage (2014), Reconstruction of a family (2016), Dirithi (2016), Ke Sale Teng (2017) to name a few, she retrieves familial bonds between herself and her mother and her grandfather; she offers an ardent critique of apartheid induced displacement while revealing a propensity to constantly re-home herself through every new encounter with her disparate family. In these various bodies of work, we further come to understand, through Teju Cole’s illumination, that “memory has an menacing side to it.”[3] Such a verdict alerts us to the reality that Kganye’s excavation of a personal yet shared, fraught history presents no absolutes nor certainties – it is in some sense a site of the unknowable. This is precisely why the camera is the ideal apparatus through which her memory-work inspires a reimagination of how she is to know herself anew. For Kganye, the camera thus remains “a site for the performance of dreams and to stage the narratives of contradictions, half-truths; erasure, denial, hidden truths. A family identity therefore becomes an orchestrated fiction and a collective invention.”[4]

Salient here are the two words “stage” and “orchestration”. They invite us to reflect on her work with greater clarity since they announce Kganye’s agency, which is apparent both in how she inserts herself into her own images and in how she imputes narratives through different registers that reaffirm the very performative nature of her work. Notably, her photographs, cuttings, forays into theatre and literature, animations and installations all inform us of a continuous orchestration of a process immersed in self-invention. If memory is in its very form an unstable, precarious site, then Kganye’s approach, we might say, is one that attempts to elasticize its materiality – it opens a space where despite its arbitrariness, memory is explored to the fullest extent. More tellingly, her approach makes known her guile that finds expression through a careful arrangement of objects, feelings, ideas, sentiments, and questions that inform her becoming.

It is in this fact that we can, once again, appreciate her agency as a performer who orchestrates and stages the life-worlds of memories that entangle the past and the present – memories that make legible the now seminal superimposition of herself into her mother’s photographs as we saw in her inaugural artistic missive, Ke Lefa Laka (2013). From this aesthetical gesture, we would do well to note that her “memory-work” becomes in a strong sense a form of technology, a portal through which she encounters past, lived experiences anew, differently. Marianne Hirsch might concur with this premise: in her conception of postmemory, Hirsch duly observes the capacity to relive and re-encounter the personal, collective and cultural experiences of those who lived before through images, behaviours and stories.[5] It is thus unsurprising that Kganye’s oeuvre unfolds with a similar tenor. And yet, in all her artistic explorations, Kganye remains an ardent reconnoitre of the untold truths that history hides – be they personal or collective.