Close to Home is the second exhibition in The Walther Collection’s multi-year exhibition series on contemporary photography and video art from Africa and the African Diaspora. Present- ed thematically from 2015 to 2017, and surveying a diverse range of new and commissioned work, the series provides an in-depth engagement with emerging artists by building upon the collection’s longstanding focus on African photography. The series began with The Lay of the Land, a group show presenting photographic approaches to the postcolonial African cityscape. Following Close to Home, the series continues with a group exhibition investigating the body and performance through video art and conceptual photography, and an international sympo- sium examining contemporary photographic practices in Africa. The series will culminate with a major exhibition at The Walther Collection’s museum in Neu-Ulm, Germany, accompanied by a catalogue co-published by Steidl.
Vividly documenting the awed beauty of everyday life, the five young artists in Close to Home represent a powerful new vision of portrait photography in Africa. In their respective photo- graphic practices, Andrew Esiebo, Sabelo Mlangeni, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, Musa N. Nxumalo, and Thabiso Sekgala explore intense social relationships through intimate portrayals of friends and family, in-depth accounts of eclectic sub-cultures and communities, or typological studies of professions. Drawn from series taken in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mali, and elsewhere across the continent, Close to Home describes the emotional ties between subject and land- scape, as the artists engage with complex senses of belonging and self-identification. Where some photographers highlight pose and fashion, others explore historical resonances rooted in social politics. Examining their own relationships to the people and places they portray, the artists in Close to Home capitalize on their positions as insiders, or take a step back to gain new perspectives on the everyday. Together, working between familiarity and distance, self-discov- ery and generational portrait, these artists are at the vanguard of visual storytelling.
Produced during her travels across the African continent and the globe, as well as in her home- town of Nairobi, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok’s photographs are a visual diary of the experiences and emotions emerging from her itinerant life. Her ongoing series The Other Country explores the feeling of returning home to Kenya after periods away, while Come Closer/It Always Gets Com- plicated When Feelings are Involved refers to her time spent in Accra, Ghana, where a neighbor- ing passenger on a bus begged her to “come closer,” an entreaty at once commanding and sur- prisingly intimate. With subtle gradations in color, delicate forms, and the play of sunlight and shade, Ng’ok coaxes the viewer to consider the quotidian from a more contemplative perspec- tive, conjuring nostalgia and melancholia through calm street scenes or glimpses of domestic interiors. Against this backdrop, the portrait occupies a unique space in which the connection between subject and photographer is deeply intimate, open, and honest. In the direct gaze of a sister laying prone, or the comfortable grin of a friend, these images amplify the closeness of the photographer, rather than distancing her from her subjects. The five prints on view are contextualized by a site-specific projection for The Walther Collection’s library space, featuring a selection of images tracing the artist’s emotional cartographies.
Proximity of a different kind characterizes the energetic, spontaneous photographs of Musa N. Nxumalo. In his two series Alternative Kidz and In/Glorious, Nxumalo documents life in Sowe- to, the South African township where he grew up, from the perspective of young people like himself who are trying to escape through journeys of self-discovery. A close reading of alterna- tive punk culture amongst South African urban youth, Nxumalo’s work offers a window into a world where the rejection of mainstream values—in this context, hip-hop and the glorification of “ghetto” life—is embedded in the very process of self-fashioning. Rendering the dynamism of moving bodies in striking black-and-white, with unexpected angles and bold compositions, Nxumalo captures both private moments of introspection and creativity, and exuberant public displays of rebellion. With wry humor tempered with tenderness, his images examine and chal- lenge the cultural norms of township life by capturing everyday expressions complicating their perceived characteristics.
Sabelo Mlangeni interprets the formal elements of portraiture in a more traditional manner. In Black Men in Dress, he interrogates the complexities of South African socio-cultural identity through a series of photographs celebrating the glamour of male beauty queens. These men are all attendees at the Johannesburg and Soweto Pride, an annual event for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) community. With their assertive postures, elaborate outfits, and con dent, playful expressions, they o er a stark contrast with Mlangeni’s subjects in My Storie, a series he made in Bertrams, a working class neighborhood in Johannesburg. Con- sidering himself an outsider in this largely white community, Mlangeni tests the possibilities of representation through images created across a cultural divide. Combining focused individual portraits with family groupings, My Storie traces a web of relationships that draws both the photographer and the viewer into its complexities.
Thabiso Sekgala’s series Homeland is a meditation on the ways that collective memory is built and embedded across geographic space and time. In portraits of young people born in South Africa after the end of apartheid in 1994, Sekgala shows this generation as one seemingly bless- ed with freedom, yet simultaneously embedded in landscapes haunted by history. In reference to the apartheid-era system under which large portions of South Africa’s population were di- vided and relocated by race, Homeland both questions the idea of “home” and reasserts its relevance in a world where the burdens of history and political change inspire continued efforts to forge senses of belonging. Calm in both composition and color, Sekgala’s portraits draw their quiet luminosity from the direct gazes of the young people before him—gazes that speak of a respectful exchange between the photographer and the photographed. These images contest the legacies of spatial politics and open up multiple conceptions of belonging, community, and home.
Through in-depth photographic essays, Andrew Esiebo peels back layers of urban experience to shed light on unremarkable scenes from everyday life. Made during his travels to seven cit- ies—Accra, Abidjan, Dakar, Bamako, Monrovia, Lagos, and Porto-Novo—the series Barbers and Nuances examine the dynamics at play within barbershops across West Africa. Portraying the barbers, their richly decorated shops, and their customers, these images document the com- mon aesthetic language of these local institutions and re ect their position as sites of social transaction. The series also reveals Esiebo’s interest in composition, contrasting a playful ap- proach—the barbers and their customers are frequently seen reflected in mirrors, or framed by structures in their surroundings—with the more typological method characteristic of frontal portraiture, the latter echoed uncannily in the printed grids of haircut styles adorning the salon walls.
Andrew Esiebo (b.1978, Lagos, Nigeria; lives and works in Ibadan) is a graduate of the Inter- national Institute of Journalism in Ibadan, Nigeria. Starting out as a freelance photojournalist, his photographs have been published in The Guardian, Time Out Nigeria, Mail & Guardian, Laia Books, and Arise. Esiebo’s work has been exhibted at Tiwani Contemporary, London (2015); Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg (2014); Dak’art: the 11th Dakar Biennale, Dakar, Senegal (2014); Musée du Quai Branly, Paris (2013); São Paulo Bienal (2010); and Rencontres de Bamako: The African Biennale of Photography (2009).
Sabelo Mlangeni (b. 1980 Driefontein, South Africa; lives and works in Johannesburg) is a graduate of the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, where he was the 2006 recipient of the Edward Ruiz mentorship program. Mlangeni’s work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at Aula der Akademie der Bildenden Kunste Wien, Austria (2014); Goethe-Institut, Johannesburg (2013); and Iceberg Projects, Chicago (2012). His work has also been included in the Lumum- bashi Biennale (2013); Rencontres de Bamako: The African Biennale of Photography (2011); The International Center for Photography, New York (2011); The Victoria and Albert Museum, Lon- don (2011); and LagosPhoto Festival (2011).
Mimi Cherono Ng’ok (b. 1983 Nairobi, Kenya; lives and works in Nairobi) holds a BA from the University of Cape Town and is a graduate of the Johannesburg Market Photo Workshop, where she was the 2007 recipient of the Edward Ruiz mentorship program. She has completed residences at Foundation for Contemporary Art, Accra; Instituto Sacatar, Salvador de Bahia; Savvy Contemporary, Berlin; and Fondation Donwahi, Abidjan. In 2015, her work was featured in the 10th edition of Rencontres de Bamako: The African Biennale of Photography, and the third edition of 1:54 Contemporary Contemporary African Art Fair, London. Her work has been presented in exhibitions at Tiwani Contemporary, London (2015); Dak’art: the 11th Dakar Biennale, Dakar, Senegal (2014); Savvy Contemporary, Berlin (2014); and the Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg (2008).
Musa N. Nxumalo (b. 1986 Soweto, South Africa; lives and works in Soweto) studied photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, where he was the 2008 recipient of the Edward Ruiz mentorship program. Nxumalo’s work has been exhibited at Tiwani Contemporary, London (2015); Fondation Donwahi, Abidjan (2014); La Maison Rouge, Paris (2013); ifa-Galerie, Berlin (2013); and Stevenson, Johannesburg (2009).
Thabiso Sekgala (1981-2014, lived and worked in Johannesburg, South Africa), a graduate of the Johannesburg Market Photo Workshop, was awarded the institute’s Tierney Fellowshp in 2010. In 2013, Sekgala took part in residencies at Kunsterhaus Bethanien, Berlin, and HIWAR/ Durant Al Funun, Amman. His work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg (2014); Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg (2011); Recyclart & The Viewer, Brussels (2011); and shown in group exhibitions at Museum Africa, Johannesburg (2014); Les Rencontres d’Arles (2013); La Maison Rouge, Paris (2013); Musée du Quai Branly, Paris (2013); and ifa-Galerie, Berlin (2013). Sekgala’s first monograph, Paradise, was published in 2014.