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INVOICE (article first published : 2007-02-7)

Invoice is an important exhibition currently running in the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg of the work of Santu Mofokeng. One of South Africa’s foremost photographers, he is held in the highest regard by almost everyone involved with photography. According to international curator Simon Njami, he is “one of the most important photographers of his generation”, and acclaimed photographer David Golblatt has said that his “photographs of life and landscape in southern Africa are amongst the finest that we have.”

Santu Mofokeng’s photographic career began in 1973 when, while still at school, he started working as a street-photographer to make money. He subsequently came to understand photography’s subversive potential when he saw pictures of the June 16 uprising in which he was a participant. In the mid-1980s he joined the Afrapix Collective, an independent photographic agency that played a leading role in documenting popular resistance against apartheid. While with Afrapix, and also as a photographer with the newspaper, New Nation, Mofokeng exhibited an independent approach, producing images that were not overtly political. What he shaped instead was a broader story about urban black life under apartheid.

A survey show rather than a retrospective, the exhibition includes photographs from virtually all of Mofokeng’s major bodies of work produced between 1982 and 2006 and is a landmark event designed to coincide with the photographer’s 50th year.

On show are images of life in townships, from the point of view of an insider and resident, and those from The Bloemhof Portfolio, which tell of the lives of tenant farmers in rural Bloemhof. Also included in the exhibition are photographs from a body of work on rituals performed by followers of the Zionist Apostolic faith at the Motouleng Caves in the Free State. Artist and author Sue Williamson has described these photographs as being among the “most beautiful in the South African canon”. The most recent photographs in this series are of Mofokeng’s brother, Ishmael, shortly before his death from Aids.

In recent years, Mofokeng has turned his attention to landscape. The urban landscape and the phenomenon of the billboard are investigated in the series, Landscape and Ideology. Generally, Mofokeng uses landscape to “try to inform debates that are happening in this country around landscapes, monuments and memory.” However, in working on landscape for the body of work called Chasing Shadows, Mofokeng has not restricted himself to South Africa, seeking out places around the world in an attempt “to explore the banality of horror.” Sites visited include Auschwitz, Hanoi and a concentration camp for “natives” in the Free State.

Mofokeng has been acknowledged for his photographic work, not only locally, but also in the international art world. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and has exhibited extensively in Europe and elsewhere. In 2002 he was one of four South African artists selected by curator Okwui Enwezor to exhibit on Documenta 11 in Germany.

Recently he has participated in the international travelling exhibition, Africa Remix (2004-6). In 2004, he was chosen as one of ten leading photographers in the world to participate in Beijing’s Forbidden City International Photography Festival. Mofokeng has had solo exhibitions of his work in New York and Johannesburg.

Invoice has been realised through partnerships with Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg, Autograph ABP, London, and Standard Bank. The exhibition runs until March 17.




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