Johannesburg-based photographer, Lebohang Kganye, explores the trajectories of family memory and history by merging herself into old family photographs. Kganye’s project, Ke Lefa Laka, is currently showing at Tiwani Contemporary in London in a group show entitled ‘The View From Here’.
Three years after losing her mother, Lebohang Kganye turned to her family’s photographic archive to embark on a journey of mourning with the aid of her camera. Through exploring her family memory, Kganye constructed a visual narrative in which she became an active participant in keeping these memories alive.
In her project, Ke Lefa Laka, now showing at Tiwani Contemporary in London, Kganye inserts herself into family photographs in the guise of her grandfather.
“My grandfather passed away before I was born and we carry his surname,” explains Kganye. He carried the surname Khanye, which changed to Khanyi and finally Kganye due to careless recording by officials during the apartheid era.
Her grandfather was the first in the family to move from di’plaasing in the Orange Free State to the Traansvaal to look for work. “As a result everyone in the family has stories about my grandfather, and even though I was born in his house, I never got to know him except through stories passed down from family.
“So Ke Lefa Laka is also about being at the same place at different times and not meeting.”
In Ke Lefa Laka, Kganye enacts stories about her grandfather in order to “construct a visual narrative, in which we meet, through the use of life-size flat mannequins of the characters related to me in various family stories”.
Growing up in Katlehong, a township in the East Rand of Johannesburg, and attending multi-racial schools left a lasting impact on her views of her identity as a young, black South African woman.
Turning the camera to herself happened organically. “I felt an urgency to become the author and the subject, exposing myself to the public, showing my vulnerabilities, my desires, my contradictions and my feelings of always having to play ‘catch up’.”
Kganye visited the different locations in South Africa where her family lived to collect photographs and memories, and to trace how her family came to call these different spaces “home”.
“Family photographs are more than just a memory of moments or people, but they are also vehicles to a fantasy that allows for a momentary space to ‘perform’ ideals of ‘family-ness’, and become visual constructions of who we think we are and hope to be, yet at the same time being an erasure of reality.”
The View From Here at Tiwani Contemporary, presents works by Kganye and six other artists from Africa and the diaspora, who challenge and explore the status of the photograph’s potential for subjective, fictional and poetic musings.
Kganye’s photomontages that form part of The View From Here interrogate photography as autobiography and raise questions about the social role of photography.
“Through the process of attempting to trace my family history, I have discovered that identity cannot be made fully tangible, just like the products of a camera; it is a site for the performance of dreams and the staging of narratives.
“While these images record history, it is only a history imagined.”
Lebohang Kganye is an artist living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kganye began her photography studies in 2009 at the Market Photo Workshop and completed the Advanced Photography Programme in 2011 and is currently studying Fine Arts at the University of Johannesburg. Over the past five years she has participated in photography masterclasses and group exhibitions locally and internationally. Kganye was the recipient of the Tierney Fellowship Award in 2012, leading to her solo exhibition Ke Lefa Laka at the Market Photo Workshop Gallery. She created an animation from the series, which was launched on Mandela Day 2014 in Scotland, entitled Pied Piper’s Voyage. Kganye was then selected as the Featured Artist for the 17th Business and Arts South Africa Awards in 2014.
The View From Here will be showing at Tiwani Contemporary from 22 May to 27 June.