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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

ZULUSUSHI (article first published : 2007-09-5)

As the title of his book suggests, artist Peter Engblom's Zulusushi is a rich narrative that stands the idea of the authenticity of the photographic document on its head. First shown in Europe at Paris Photo in November 2002, it’s also been exhibited at the OMC Gallery in Düsseldorf and is now showing at Kizo Art Gallery in Ballito.

Authenticity remains a theme throughout the series. True fake documents give evidence of a photographic traveller’s tale. In turn, the layers of fake authenticity create new truthful documents. The results are as amusing as they are bewildering. This is the background to a pictorial narrative full of fantasy, running into the surreal.

Peter Engblom uses material from the rich history of early Japanese photography. These pictorial finds are mixed with his own photography. The end products are Iris Prints on archival paper. The artist reinvents the past to reflect on its value for the future. His predominant stylistic tool is that of the document. His highly individual results could easily find their way into the archives of tomorrow, as untitled, anonymous documents that will be referred to give evidence of events in the past.

Mpunzi Shezi left his native Zululand in 1911 to travel to Japan. The purpose of his trip was mutual cultural exchange and learning about 'the country, the people', and especially 'the art of sushi and Japanese bondage', as Peter Engblom has it. Thus we are privileged to witness the unique sight of Mpunzi Shezi in full tribal gear in Japanese settings of the early 20th century. Mpunzi also introduced himself to the erotic.

Peter Engblom refers to the contemporary image of the nude as it is to be found in the work of Araki, as well as in popular culture. Apparently Mpunzi found representatives of what we must suppose would be deeply embedded and well hidden in everyday culture within society. At least he is happy to pose in a way that suggests exactly this. Peter Engblom is a perfectionist. The document’s only sign of falsity is the sheer surrealistic idea of a Zulu man travelling to Japan at the beginning of last century. The idea, followed through the series, becomes a hilarious search for the small hints of what might betray that the true journey took place in the photographer's inventive mind.

According to what we are told of Peter Engblom’s own background, familiarity with different cultural spheres must be second nature for him. He grew up in Zululand; his family being of Scandinavian background, having gone to Africa to do missionary work 150 years ago. He attended the Staatliche Fach-Akademio fur Fotodesign in Munich and taught colour photography at the Durban Institute of Technology (now DUT).

Visit the Kizo gallery in Ballito to see more about what Mpunzi Shezi learned in Japan. The exhibition runs until September 16.




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