The Walther Collection
Oluremi C. Onabanjo is the Director of Exhibitions and Collections of The Walther Collection Project Space, located in New York City, USA. She holds a BA in African Studies from Columbia University and an MSc in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology from Oxford University. Onabanjo has assisted with exhibitions at the Museum of African Design, Johannesburg; The Walther Collection, New York and Neu-Ulm, Germany; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. She has written and lectured on photography and contemporary art from Africa and the Diaspora, and recently edited the 2016 catalogue for the contemporary African Art fair, 1:54, in London, UK. Onabanjo’s research is informed by the relationship between photographic imagery and the social imaginary, and retains an overarching objective to mine the tensions between art historical, anthropological, and critical readings of visual and material culture from Africa.
This paper presents an examination of the black photographic subject within the work of Santu Mofokeng, Mikhael Subotzky, and Zanele Muholi, concentrating on the ways in which Johannesburg figures as a site that simultaneously exhibits the vestiges of South Africa’s past, while yielding to reinvention and renewal. In acknowledging art historian Tamar Garb’s notion of “intertwined temporalities of a society, cityscape or object defined as “post” or “neo”’ in relation to a particular sociopolitical regime, this paper first examines colonial ethnographic portraiture and apartheid-era photojournalism. The mining of these photographic practices makes clear the foundational visual vocabulary through which South African social history was communicated. Paying particular attention to the aesthetic conventions of seriality and typology, this paper proposes that the contemporary photographers Santu Mofokeng, Zanele Muholi and Mikhael Subotzky subvert existing visual histories by creating works that mimic the archival form, yet carve spaces for more complex portrayals of the black South African subject.