Entitled Frameworks, Goodman Gallery Johannesburg’s latest exhibition offers a dialogue between selected works by the doyen of SA documentary fine art photographer David Goldblatt and Angolan photographer and filmmaker Kiluanji Kia Henda.
Goldblatt, who died in 2018, exhibited with the gallery for many years. The Goodman’s available archival inventory is put to intelligent curatorial use here. His documentary style was wide-ranging, from evocative cityscapes in and around his beloved Johannesburg, to enigmatic peri-urban and rural landscapes.
As with his iconic collections On the Mines and In Boksburg, Goldblatt was at his best when bringing a compassionate and humanist eye to scenes that were definitive of the identities and zeitgeists of apartheid SA. In this collection of work the scenes focus on the heartbreaking displacement and destruction caused by forced removals under the apartheid government’s Group Areas Act.
The exhibition includes works from Goldblatt’s seminal long-term photographic essay and publication, The Structures of Things Then (1961- 1993), alongside colour works from the early 2000s. Iron-age corbelled hut (1993) shows a simple stone enclosure built by pastoralists moving south from Zimbabwe as a means of home and protection. The photograph speaks eloquently to one also on show, of Luke Kgatitsoe sitting on the rubble of his home, bulldozed by apartheid agents in yet another forced removal in 1984. Both sites in these images evoke a sense of bare life, a reduction of the human to an aspect of this blasted landscape. In the same vein, A mother and her child in their home after the destruction of its shelter by officials, also from 1984, is poignant testimony to the brutality of the system.
Alongside Goldblatt is the work of the lens-based Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda. His Structures of Survival (2022) shows repeated views of a fragile, ephemeral structure suggesting a dwelling, being built in the sparse and desolate surrounds of the Namib Desert. The work alludes, like Goldblatt’s, to the idea of belonging implied by a shelter — a roof over one’s head. The ultimate human displacement is the politically motivated denial of this right.
The gallery also shows Henda’s video work Concrete Affections — Zopo Lady, from 2014, which depicts a modern-day Luanda transformed into a ghostly metropolis emptied of its inhabitants, with subtitles drawn partly from Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s writing on the city after colonialism and the subsequent ‘white flight’ in the 1970s. Henda’s video work is a subtle and affecting postcolonial urban essay, reminiscent of JG Ballard’s dystopian futures where relationships to buildings and urban space have replaced human interactions.
Both artists have exhibited widely across the world. The dialogue between their work struck up by the exhibition is testimony to how curation should work. That is, the show throws up surprising and incisive juxtapositions and critique, joined together as these bodies of work are by a shared sense of outrage and opposition to the depredations of colonialism, race and class oppression when it comes to the ownership of land and how it provides people with a sense of identity.
• Frameworks at the Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, until March 6