Last May, South African photographer Lebohang Kganye has won the Grand Prix Images Vevey 2021/2022 for her Staging Memories project, a particular development from the series “In Search of Memory,” which began in 2020. Recognized for its visual inventiveness, historical rigor, and daring conceptualization, Kganye’s new project offers a response to Malawian writer Muthi Nhlema’s 2015 sci-fi thriller novella Ta O’Reva, which imagines Nelson Mandela brought back to life in a post-apocalyptic future South Africa destroyed by racial tensions and xenophobia.
With “Staging Memories,” Kganye will create a large-scale three-dimensional installation exploring photography in dialogue with theater and literature for the biennial Images Vevey in September 2022. Working across multiple genres including photography, collage, installation, and set design to interrogate what the artist describes as “the human need to retain and recall shared narratives and exploring the contradictions and fictions therein,” Staging Memories draws upon archival photographic imagery, primarily family albums, Kganye will explore the ways personal and familiar experiences intersect with wider social realities.
Pathways to Unknown Worlds
Lebohang Khanye was born in South Africa in 1990, the very year Mandela was finally released from prison after serving nearly 30 years for fighting against the Apartheid. She received her introduction to photography at the famed Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg in 2009, obtained a Diploma in Fine Arts from the University of Johannesburg in 2014, and is currently doing her Masters in Fine Arts at the Witwatersrand University.
Like her fellow compatriots William Kentridge, David Goldblatt, Sam Nhlengethwa, and Zanele Muholi, Kganye’s practice is deeply informed by social issues in her country. But Kganye’s voice is wholly unique, fusing the fantastical, personal, and political into a magnificent blend that embraces the complexities of Afrofuturism to imagine Black futures through new paradigms that offer pathways to unknown worlds.
“I see South Africa as a melting pot of racial tension because of a lot of unresolved issues from the past, things that maybe most people felt they had gotten over but they still simmer under the surface for many South Africans,” writer Muhti Nhlema told the blog Africa In Words about the inspiration for Ta O’Reva.
It is a truth Lebohang Kganye understands and expands upon in her work, embracing the idea of collective memory to create the space for multiple perspectives. Rooted in specific post-Apartheid realities, Staging Memories goes beyond the immediate scope of South African life to examine the ways in which history is local and global at the same time. The jury of the prize notes, “In Lebohang Kganye’s capable and fearless hands, we are given an opportunity to encounter the world in new frames: playful and dark, accessible and challenging, steadily mournful and indomitably hopeful.”
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, including Time, Vogue, Aperture, and Vice, among others.