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Figures & Fictions

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The exhibition highlights the work of 17 photographers living and working in South Africa today. It presents the vibrant and sophisticated photographic culture that has emerged in post-apartheid South Africa. Many of the works shown are extracts from extended essayistic sequences, but can nevertheless be understood as fragments containing the essence of the whole. The show points to the enigmatic relationship with the 'real' world that they seem to depict.

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Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography highlights the work of 17 South African photographers, all of whom live and work in the country and whose images were made between 2000 and 2010. Each photographer is represented by one or more projects that are linked by the depiction of people and a self-conscious engagement with South Africa's political and photographic past.

Photographs showing figures raise pertinent issues of identity: how the gaze of the camera, photographer and viewer is returned by the subject, and the balance of power which that interaction implies. The 'figure' also implies not only the human figure but also the metaphorically figurative. Photographs can be like a 'figure' of speech, composed of familiar words but containing an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation.

As the Fictions part of this exhibition's title suggests, it points not just to the geographical and social specificity of these photographs but also to the enigmatic relationship with the 'real' world that they seem to depict. A photograph is always a translation, distillation or filter of reality seen from the physical and conceptual standpoint of the person creating the image - as well as that of the viewer.

Many of the works shown in the exhibition are extracts from extended essayistic sequences, but can nevertheless be understood as fragments containing the essence of the whole. Many of the photographers' series address, among other concerns: the threshold between documentary photography and fine art practice; the balance of the specific and the universal and the dialogue between the local and the global.

The excitement and urgency surrounding photography in South Africa today is partly explained by its local context: embedded in colonial history, ethnography, anthropology, journalism and political activism, the best photography emerging from the country has absorbed and grapples with its weighty history, questioning, manipulating and revivifying its visual codes and blending them with contemporary concerns. Post-Apartheid, complex and fundamental issues - race, society, gender, identity - remain very much on the surface. This is reflected by image makers who harness the resulting scenes as a form of creative tension within their personal vision. Here, distinctive photographic voices have emerged: local in character and subject matter, but of wider international interest because of their combined intensity.

The Figures & Fictions exhibition and related publication is a project conceived by Tamar Garb, Professor of Art History at University College London in collaboration with V&A Senior Curator of Photographs, Martin Barnes.

Curator's Biographies

Tamar Garb
Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art at University College London (UCL). She graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town with a BA (Art) in 1978. In 1980 she was awarded an MA in Art Education from the Institute of Education, University of London and in 1982 graduated with a MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, was appointed as Lecturer (1988), and completed her PhD there 1991. She was appointed Lecturer at UCL in 1989 and was promoted to reader in 1995 and professor in 2001. Her research interests have focused on questions of gender and sexuality, the woman artist and the body, as well as race and representation, and she has published extensively in these fields. In 2008 she curated an exhibition on landscape and language in South African Art, Land Marks/Home Lands; Contemporary Art from South Africa at Haunch of Venison Gallery, London and was recently external consultant for Tate's Gaugin exhibition (2010-11).

Martin Barnes
Senior Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, (V&A) London which he joined in 1995. Previously, he worked for the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and studied at the University of Leicester and the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. He has curated numerous exhibitions at the V&A, including, Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour (2006); Something That I'll Never Really See: Contemporary Photography from the V&A (2008 and touring) and Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography (2010), and has written extensively on both historic and contemporary photography.

Image: Guy Tillim, Apartment building, Avenue Bagamoyo, Beira, Mozambique, 2008. Archival pigment ink on cotton rag paper 91.5 x 131.5cm. Courtesy Kuckei + Kuckei, Berlin

V&A South Kensington
Cromwell Road London SW7 2RL
Opening Hours
10.00 to 17.45 daily
10.00 to 22.00 Fridays (selected galleries remain open after 18.00)
Closing commences 10 minutes before time stated
£6 Full
£6 Seniors
£4 Students, 12-17 yrs old and ES40
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Free to under 12s, people with a disability

Alexander McQueen
dal 13/3/2015 al 1/8/2015

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