Lebohang Kganye Grieves Her Mother’s Death through Tender Photographs
For Lebohang Kganye, a photograph serves a much larger purpose than what we may give it credit for in the era of endless swipes, likes, and favorites. According to Kganye, photographs allow us to reconstruct a world. Approaching photography as a tool for memory preservation, Kganye explores the relationship between loss, grief, and imagination. Engaging with family photo albums and archival materials, Kganye crafts intimate scenes that speak not only to familial legacies honoring ancestors, but also to the larger context of South African history.
Born and raised in Johannesburg, Kganye was selected as one of three leading contemporary artists to represent South Africa in the 2022 Venice Biennale. Her current solo exhibition, “What Are You Leaving Behind?” at ROSEGALLERY in Los Angeles, marks her U.S. debut. On view through April 9th, the show brings together three seminal series created over the past eight years. “Reconstruction of a Family” (2016) grapples with apartheid laws through personal narrative, while “Tell Tale” (2018) focuses on ideals of community. However, the heart of the L.A. show is Kganye’s tender meditation grieving the loss of her mother, as captured in the series “Her Story” (2013).
For this body of work, Kganye meticulously recreated photographs of her mother found in family photo albums, dressing in her exact clothing and mimicking her poses. In these restaged images, Kganye portrays herself as a present version of her mother. By juxtaposing the two versions, Kganye’s digital photomontages spark an imagined conversation between mother and daughter.
“She is me, I am her, and there remains in this commonality so much difference, and so much distance in space and time,” Kganye said in a recent interview with Artsy. “‘Her Story’ seemed to connect three generations of women in my family: my grandmother as the narrator of family memories, my mother as the object of study, and me and my younger sister as receptors of this history and its makers as well.” Working with photography, collage, and archival images, the 2022 Foam Paul Huf Award recipient presents the past, present, and future in a single image.
Kganye’s photo-based practice is intrinsically linked to her own process of recovering the parts of herself that she lost with her mother’s passing. In turn, her works nudge viewers to cultivate our own methods of healing.