Thirty Years of Photographic Essays / Curated by Corinne Diserens

Kunsthalle Bern
8 October–27 November 2011

Kunsthalle Bern presents Santu Mofokeng's first international retrospective. A leading South African photographer, Mofokeng consistently subverts the alleged certainties of cultural and racial histories, questioning photography's politics of representation and its objectivity, in works dealing with a variety of issues; religious rituals, memorials or desolate landscapes. Mofokeng's black-and-white photographs are lasting images of humanity, recording not just adversity and oppression, but also happy moments and the indomitable human spirit.

Santu Mofokeng was born in 1956 in Johannesburg and started his career as a street photographer in Soweto during Apartheid. He was a member of the Afrapix collective, which fought Apartheid by presenting documentary photographs on the resistance movement and the desolate social conditions in 1980s South Africa. Over the course of ten years, Mofokeng worked as a research- and documentary-photographer at the Institute for Advanced Social Research (formerly the African Studies Institute) at the University of the Witwatersrd 

In 1989 he decided to no longer photograph for journalistic purposes, but rather to document everyday life in South Africa's townships. He asked black families for permission to copy their old family pictures from the years between 1890 and 1950, in order to counter the representation of black people as backward and rural in publications that were financed by the Apartheid-state (e. g. the tourist's brochure Native Life in South Africa, 1936). By showcasing the diversity of black family life, with his Black Photo Album, Mofokeng created an invaluable cultural archive.

Mofokeng's photographs have been shown all over the world in landmark exhibitions: for instance, at documenta 11 in Kassel, and in the touring exhibition The Short Century, Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa: 1945–1994. His works were also presented at the Sharjah Biennial, the Gwangju Biennial, as well as at Rencontres de Bamako, Biennale Africaine de la Photographie. Santu Mofokeng lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern is organised in collaboration with Jeu de Paume (Paris), Extracity Kunsthal Antwerpen, and Bergen Kunsthall (Bergen) and is supported by Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren, Brussels and the Institut Français, Paris, the Südkulturfonds and the Gubler-Hablützel Foundation, Switzerland.

A comprehensive monograph, co-published by Kunsthalle Bern, Jeu de Paume, Extracity Kunsthal Antwerpen, Bergen Kunsthall and Prestel Verlag, provides an overview of Santu Mofokeng's extensive and multi-faceted body of work both as a photographer and as an author. Mofokeng's texts revolve around the same topics as his photography work, and they highlight his personal perspective and position as an outside observer. An interview by curator Corinne Diserens with Santu Mofokeng, as well as essays by Adam Ashforth, Okwui Enwezor, Sarat Maharaj, Patricia Hayes, Sabine Vogel, and Ivan Vladislavic allow for a profound encounter with Mofokeng's art and its contexts.

Kunsthalle Bern
Helvetiaplatz 1
CH-3005 Bern
T +41 (0)31 350 00 40 
Tuesday–Friday, 11 am–6pm
Saturday–Sunday, 10 am–6pm

Image Credits:
(1) Santu Mofokeng, 
Easter Sunday Church Service, 1996
(2) Santu Mofokeng, Buddhidt Retreat near Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu Natal / 2003 silverprint edition 5
(3) Santu Mofokeng, Eyes-Wide-Shut, Motouleng Cave, Clarens / 2004 

Graphic Design by Ishmael Annobil /  Web Development by Ruzanna Hovasapyan