Digital Wondering 04

Digital Wonderings are a series of online speculations around the curatorial theme of TRUST. They can take any form, from a conversation, a short statement, a film or a photographic series. Invited contributors come from a wide range of disciplines and can respond and react to the theme and the format as they wish.

Trust is not the absence of doubt

Trust is not the absence of doubt.

Three questions for the South African artist Lebohang Kganye about her work and reflections around Trust.

Your work offers an inventive look into your own family’s histories, and by implication the wider history of the South Africa from before and during Apartheid.  In the exhibition PASS IT ON. PRIVATE STORIES, PUBLIC HISTORIEScurrently at Fotodok how does the work Ho thubeha ha leboneaddress your family’s pictures made during apartheid in South Africa?

Kganye: The installation Ho thubeha ha lebone translates to A breakage of the Lightand is an extension of my photographic body of work Reconstruction of a Family (2016). It straddles the generations of my mothers family. It resonates with the history of South African displacement in that my family was uprooted and resettled because of apartheid laws and the amendment of land acts. The narrative, as chronicled by grandmother, of my family moving and creating temporary homes in different locations during the apartheid era as a result of dislocation and land dispossession of black South Africans, had a direct impact on the identity of my family, and on the family name. Our family name shifted in attempts to identify with the different social and physical spaces where my family lived, or because of negligence in the recording of names by the civil registrar at the South African Department of Home Affairs. Fragments of the name are embodied in the multiple versions of the name, starting with how it is said, how it is pronounced and finally how it is spelled – Khanye, Khanyi, Kganye and Khanyile.

In a previous interview for Objektiv you talked about „The patterns or consistent inquiries in your work that you never predicted when you started are the relationship between memory and fantasy; the question of whether art can heal; photographys link to memory; the performance of a photographic biography; questions around death, and the appearance of ghosts and hauntology. We are curious on your thoughts if art can heal in relation to trust?

Kganye: In Derridas (2001) The Work of Mourning, he discusses the loss of self that takes place when you lose someone you love – a double loss. My work considers memory and evidences the role of fantasy in recollection. My reconnection with my mother became a substitute for the paucity of memory through a visual manipulation of her-ourhistories by inserting myself into her pictorial narrative and emulating the snaps of her from my family album. This is an exploration of masquerading strategies in autobiographical acts. Setupung sa kwana hae II (2013) and Setshwantso le ngwanaka II (2013) are digital photomontages where I juxtaposed old photographs retrieved from the family archives of my mother in her 20s and early-30s, with photographs of a present version of her-me, to reconstruct a new story and a commonality: she is me, I am her. I restaged the same image of my mother in the same location.  She had been photographed and reconnecting with her spirit through textile – wearing the same clothes she was wearing for the photographs and mimicking the same poses to visually emulate my adoption of the role of the mother to my sister after our mothers death. This restaging practice attempts to aid self-healing of the loss of my mother and collective healing of family from traumatic experiences associated with displacement and histories of partition.

The process of remembering through extraction of details from family photographs, transforms the unconscious to conscious. As visual tactics to recall dead ancestors, through a recall of past events narrated by my grandmother – as the memory/imaginings of a second generation. Naturally the loss of someone can result in mistrust, these memory-making processes and the retrieval of memories explore how imagination reshapes memories to conjure up different forms in narrative. This suggests that grief and the emotion of regret over the death of a loved one are generative of narrative and form.

For our upcoming festival we say that trust is the currency of the 21st Century. We dont know what the art scene or the photography scene will look like after a vaccine is found and confinement is over. How do you relate to Trust in your work? 

Kganye: For me, trust is not the absence of doubt, they co-exist in my world. Photography is informed by the unconscious through these in-between spaces as a response to loss through its devices that reveal what we dont see gaps. Like Barthes looking at the picture of his mother, we look at the person and see their life trajectory and the fact that no matter how alive they look, the photograph points at all our mortalities that the essence of my mother that I identify in these photographs is, in fact, my essence, my constructions, my memories and fantasies of this person whom I knew in only one capacity: namely, mother. As a process of mourning, the photograph can lead one into melancholia a state of denial, depression, longing, disbelief. My work as personal autobiography and as representations attempts to  fixing and capture that, which is fluid and cannot be totally captured through the gaps.


Lebohang Kganye, born 1990 in Katlehong (ZA), is an artist living and working in Johannesburg (ZA). Kganye received her introduction to photography in 2009 at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, and she completed the Advanced Photography Programme in 2011. She also graduated with a degree in fine arts from the University of Johannesburg in 2016 and counts among a new generation of contemporary South African photographers. She was the recipient of the Tierney Fellowship Award in 2012, leading to her solo exhibition Ke Lefa Laka in Johannesburg. She was also awarded the Jury Prize at the Bamako Encounters Biennale of African Photography (ML) in 2015 and was the recipient of the Contemporary African Prize 2016 in Basel (CH). Kganye recently received the award for the Sasol New Signatures Competition 2017 in Pretoria (ZA), leading to a solo show in 2018. Her work forms part of several private and public collections, most notably the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pennsylvania (US) and the Walther Collection in Ulm (DE).