STEVENSON is pleased to present a solo show by Sabelo Mlangeni, his fourth with the gallery. The exhibition places two bodies of work - and by extension very different parts of Johannesburg - in conversation with each other.
My Storie was realised in Bertrams, one of the oldest suburbs in Johannesburg; it is named after the property developer Robertson Fuller Bertram who bought the area in 1889. In recent decades, the area has become increasingly poverty stricken, and is filled with dilapidated buildings, illegal immigrants, squatters, drug dealers, thieves and refugees, amidst the poor community who Mlangeni photographed.
In Mlangeni's words:
The series started at a fenced cottage community, now turned into an old-age home. I have become familiar with many of the people in Bertrams but they still don't allow me inside their homes, with a few exceptions. As a result the images are mainly photographed from verandas and the streets, and the distance between the subject and myself is not often visible. There is a guardedness amongst the subjects which I find interesting because it brings up questions of representation and of the outsider, especially as [being an outsider] is an unknown experience for me.
My Storie premiered at the Liverpool Biennale in 2012 and has not been shown in South Africa before.
No Problem was photographed in Alexandra between 2011 and 2013, while the artist was a resident of the township. Alex, as it is known to locals, was founded before the Natives Land Act of 1913, and is one of the few urban areas in the country in which black Africans could own land under a freehold title during apartheid. Another anomaly is the township's proximity to Sandton, a wealthy, leafy and mainly white suburb. Mlangeni straddled the two contrasting communities in a visual reflection on the realities of segregation and inequality, as well as issues of access for a visual documentarist. When in Sandton, he switched for the first time to colour, as if to mark visually the paradoxical distance between the two neighbourhoods.
As he says:
I have been moving around Johannesburg and its closest suburbs as someone interested in story-telling about everyday life. I am concerned by the migration flow within the urban areas, especially in the context of the South African social landscape, heavily burdened by legislation then, and now by economic constraints.
I had experienced neither township life nor 'Sandton life' before, and while I was realising this essay I had to negotiate with the police and the locals my right to photograph public spaces, although with very different dynamics according to where I was.
In my early walks I found myself in many spaces where the situation and the living conditions were impossible to look at and to photograph: then I started wondering, what to frame? Soon another side of the hardships emerged, and I attempted to capture that hidden beauty, that ordinary peace.
Mlangeni was born in 1980 in Driefontein near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga. In 2001 he moved to Johannesburg where he joined the Market Photo Workshop, graduating in 2004. He won the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts in 2009. Recent group exhibitions include Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life at Museum Africa, Johannesburg (extended until 30 April 2015); Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive at the Walther Collection in Ulm, Germany (2013-2014). Public Intimacy: Art and Social Life in South Afric a at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2014); Apartheid and After at Huis Marseille, Amsterdam (2014); the Lubumbashi Biennale (2013); the Liverpool Biennial exhibition The Unexpected Guest (2012); 9th Rencontres de Bamako African Photography Biennial in Mali and the Lagos Photo Festival, Nigeria (both 2011); Appropriated Landscapes at the Walther Collection, Ulm, Germany (2011) and Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African photography at the V&A Museum, London (2011).
The exhibition opens on Thursday 5 March 2015, 6-8pm.
Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.