Curator, Barbican Centre
Photography has an unparalleled capacity to reflect and communicate ideas, visually and directly, about the world in which we live and that agency has taken on a renewed sense of urgency in light of our current culture wars, from racial and gender politics and social activism to the precarity and importance of home and community in light of our recent confinement. The power of images to imagine, represent and reflect identities and embody our individual and collective desires has taken on new meaning over the last six months and so my selection is rooted in my search for works that speak to this new and heightened reality.
At Goodman Gallery, David Goldblatt’s searing yet quiet photographs that chronicle the erasure of Fietas through the 1970s, an area previously reserved for People of Colour – Africans and Indians – none of whom had the vote, remind us of the social injustices inflicted by the apartheid state while Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s 6-year photographic project that documented the infamous Johannesburg skyscraper Ponte City speaks to the relationship between architecture, equity and humanity. Also at Goodman Gallery, Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s moving testament to the life and disappearance of his sister in his ongoing series I Carry Her Photo With Me is an attempt to trace and record his sister’s life by photographing places where she lingered, like the clothesline in the family’s backyard where her garments gently billow in the wind.
Mickaelene Thomas’s work (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right, 2006 – which takes its title from an R&B song about male infidelity - presents a relaxed fully nude woman staring directly to camera and speaks of race, sexuality and female power. While Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s dynamic fully nude self-portrait made in the studio reflects on his own Black male body as a site for a profoundly layered exploration of gender, desire and homoerotic fantasy. This work was recently included in the exhibition Masculinities: Liberation through Photography at Barbican Art Gallery earlier this year which I curated. Pulsating with colour, light and contrast Khalik Allah’s up close and personal portraits document the lives of the African diaspora in New York. A recent Magnum nominee, his intimate and dramatic portraits, lit by the glow of storefronts and largely taken at night, pay homage to street photography while simultaneously reinvigorating the genre.
With a resurgence of ‘masculinist nationalism’ as evidenced by male world leaders shaping their image as ‘strong’ men the world over, Karen Knorr’s sardonic series Gentlemen, 1981-83, which includes the work Men Are More Interested in Power on show at Augusta Edwards Fine Art, reflects on how women and People of Colour have been historically excluded from the corridors of power and invites us to consider ideas of gender, class and patriarchy. Meanwhile Tod Papageorge’s Kodachrome street photographs of New York through the 1960s indirectly reference the counterculture and Women’s Lib movement of the time. The casual camaraderie of the five women (well within the rule of 6) perched on a street curb reminds me a freedom of movement that is currently denied us and speaks to a moment of solidarity.
As our homes morph into workplaces and playgrounds, I want to end with Rolph Gobits playful images of Judy Moxon performing her extraordinary and highly acrobatic cabaret act of foot juggling – no matter how long I stay at home I’ll never master this!