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Beyond the Binary
Santu Mofokeng and David Goldblatt

11/7/2021 — 5/29/2022

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About the exhibition

The Walther Collection continues its focus on African photography with the first dialogic exhibition of works by Santu Mofokeng (1956-2020) and David Goldblatt (1930-2018) at its museum campus in Neu-Ulm. Curated by art historian Tamar Garb, the exhibition opens spaces for re-examination and re-interpretation by interweaving the works of these extraordinary photographers.

This unique curatorial approach offers new ways of looking at the oeuvres of Mofokeng and Goldblatt. Both men set out to picture everyday life and experience in South Africa during Apartheid and its aftermath. But where they are often positioned in contrast to one another, with Goldblatt understood as the insightful social documentarian and Mofokeng as the visionary poet, this exhibition sets out to question such a separation and to allow the images to traverse preconceived labels and patterns of perception. By combining their works in novel ways the exhibition aims to draw out the distinctiveness of each while questioning the binaries through which they are customarily viewed.

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David Goldblatt, Some Afrikaners: A plot-holder, his wife and their eldest son at lunch, 1962.
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Santu Mofokeng, Moth'osele Maine, Bloemhof, 1994.

About the concept

The exhibition is organized in three thematic chapters that unite Mofokeng’s and Goldblatt’s works: Earthscapes, Edifices and Sociality.

Earthscapes is devoted to Mofokeng and Goldblatt’s photographic investigations of landscape and explores how its topography is affected by culture and human habitation. The appearance of the landscape is always shaped by the events that have taken place within it. Both Goldblatt and Mofokeng were fascinated by the traces and residues of the past, imprinted on the surface of the land and etched in the very shapes it assumes. Subject to political, environmental, and historical forces, the landscape simultaneously reveals and conceals its history. Both Goldblatt and Mofokeng explored what a photograph can do to evoke the layered accretions of time and the socially inflected space of the land.

Edifices turns to South African dwellings, their physical structures as well as their social fabric and situation — in the street, on the slopes, in the margins. Goldblatt and Mofokeng’s works explore what defines ‘home’ and the forces by which this space – physical and psychic – can be easily and ruthlessly destroyed. The fragility and precarity of shelter, alongside those who build and inhabit its frames are explored. So too are the impenetrable edifices of ‘whiteness’ and the permeable structures that house the racialized poor, always vulnerable to the vagaries of political bureaucracy and power. The streets, saturated with signage, function as places of social interaction and offer a particular image of this land. Both photographers explore how the segregated past plays out in the movement and flows of people, subject to the infrastructures of city and State. But they also look askance, beyond the official narratives to what escapes and exceeds expectation.

Sociality explores the way that social experience is played out in photography. It brings together images of people, most often in groups, and explores the contacts and contexts they share — in intimate interiors, on the daily commute, in worship and still contemplation. Ranging from the forensic particularity of a posed shot to the incidental capturing of movement and flow, these photographs capture the strangeness embedded in daily life, often glimpsed in half light and dark shadow, but always subject to the external structures and exigencies of the law. For Goldblatt and Mofokeng surface appearance is a conduit to interiority, the rhythms of light and dark, shadow and shaft, mobilized to reveal a sentience and subjectivity that is experienced at the level of the individual but is always historically informed.

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David Goldblatt, Bantustans: Going home: 8:45 pm, Marabastad-Waterval bus some of these passengers will reach home at 10:00 pm and start the next day at 2:00 am. 1984, 1984
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Santu Mofokeng, Opening Song, Hand Clapping and Bells, 1986

About the artists

As the son of Jewish immigrants, David Goldblatt (1930-2018) was born in the small mining town of Randfontein, just outside Johannesburg. He began photographing in 1948, shortly after graduating from high school. With the death of his father in 1962, Goldblatt made photography his profession in order to financially support his family. As he used his camera and refined his compositions, his photographs of South African life quickly gained international recognition. In 1989, Goldblatt’s bond to both his homeland and photography motivated his decision to establish the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg, a training facility for aspiring photographers.

In 1998, Goldblatt became the first South African artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Numerous exhibitions followed, including at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, Documenta 11 & 12 and the 54th Venice Biennale. He has published over 20 books and has received numerous awards, including the Henri Cartier Bresson Award and the Hasselblad Award.

For millions of black farm workers, their view of the land must have been bitter indeed…. Their horizons had been formed by the land, yet they had no part of it.

- Goldblatt

Focusing on the complexity of the everyday, in which the violence of segregation and the suffering of the Black population are present, Goldblatt refuses to show its explicit brutality in his images of life during and after apartheid. His photographs document the effects of apartheid while attempting to expose the structures — both apparent and dubious — that relentlessly maintained the injustices. Goldblatt’s work can be understood as a testament to his connection to the landscape and the people of his homeland in South Africa.

2021 MG Image Announcement
David Goldblatt, Some Afrikaners: The farm Quaggasfontein in the Great Karoo on a summer afternoon. About 250 years ago, after 13 years of work, two slaves are said to have completed the building of this wall which surrounds the farmyard, near Graaff-Reinet. Dec 1966, 1966
Santu Mofokeng, Farm in Modderpoort, 2005 (right) // Katse Dam, Lesotho, 1996 (left)

Santu Mofokeng (1956-2020), who was born in Soweto, Johannesburg, joined the famous Afrapix collective in the 1980s as a former student of David Goldblatt and after working as a darkroom assistant for various newspapers. Shortly thereafter, he became a documentary photographer for the African Studies Institute at Wits University. His simultaneously nuanced and ambivalent depictions of South African townships eventually made him a name as an independent photographer. In 1991, he won the Ernest Cole Scholarship and studied at the International Center of Photography in New York City. Like Goldblatt, Mofokeng was part of Dokumenta 11 and represented Germany at the 55th Venice Biennale in the French Pavilion in 2013.

The beauty of the South African landscape has a history that is at once bizarre, hilarious, fantastic. It is wrapped up in biblical mythology overlaid with some African mysticism.

- Mofokeng

Mofokeng's photographic work breaks with stereotypes of South African life and sets itself apart from traditional documentary photography by experimenting with different techniques: images are diaphanous due to fog or smoke, while others are blurred by the movement of the photographer or subject.

Contrary to the idea that photography only reproduces what is visible, Mofokeng focuses on the poetic, transcendent, and invisible. Through this indirect approach — to look behind the obvious — his images of urban township landscapes, spiritual meeting places, and crowded street scenes bring attention to the lives that are affected by the dilemmas of history.

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Santu Mofokeng, Buddhist Retreat, near Pietermaritzburg, 2003
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Santu Mofokeng, Easter Sunday Church Service, 1996
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Santu Mofokeng, Prayer Service at the Altar on the Easter Weekend at Motouleng Cave – Free State, 2006
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David Goldblatt, Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, inaugurated 31 July 1966, Op-die-Berg, Cape. 23 May 1987, 1987
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David Goldblatt, Children at the border between Pageview (Fietas) and Mayfair, Johannesburg. April 1952, 1952
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David Goldblatt, Migrant mineworkers who had served their contracts on the gold mines and were waiting for a train to take them part-way to their homes in Nyassaland (Malawi), Mayfair railway station, Johannesburg. December 1952, 1952

Santu Mofokeng's and David Goldblatt's works are a central part of The Walther Collection, which houses one of the world's largest collections of African photography. Both of their works have been featured in numerous exhibitions of the Collection in Neu-Ulm and New York City as well as in traveling exhibitions that have toured the world.

Important Information

Due to Covid-19 and the related safety and hygiene regulations, an opening date as well as the duration of the exhibition has yet to be determined. We will update the information on our website as soon as possible and apologize for any inconvenience.

Artworks on display

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