Lebohang Kganye at Brundyn x Boschendal
Lebohang Kganye at Brundyn x Boschendal
Image: Supplied

Lebohang Kganye’s outdoor exhibition, The Sea Horse, comprising four large-scale pop-up sculptures, marks her first significant presentation in her homeland. While personal and deeply reflective, there is a theatricality to Kganye’s work. The exhibition extends her interpretative retelling of her family history.

“A large part of my work is looking at family structures, storytelling and oral history,” she says.

The picturesque landscaped gardens of the Boschendal estate give a glorious backdrop to her imposing photo-sculptures.

In his text Mmoloki wa Mehopolo: Breaking Bread with a Wanderer, and its conduit The Sea is History: The life-worlds of memory in Lebohang Kganye’s Oeuvre, Thabang Monoa says, “Like Kganye’s previous showing, this exhibition infers a presence that protects memories. In it, she orchestrates an ensemble of sculptures, photographs and steel pop-up books into a conversation that unravels like a labyrinth, never quite readable at first glance and deliberate in making the eye search for nodal points of meaning.”

The continuity of Kganye’s work from earlier exhibitions going back to 2012 is met with fresher approaches as Monoa says, “This exhibition draws its aesthetic strength from the way in which Kganye complicates understanding of traditional mediums such as sculpture and photography. In this undertaking, she gestures towards newer, emerging forms of both photography and sculpture making to introduce, at least with her own artistic repertoire, photo-sculpture.”  

The theatrical nature of her work was inspired by Kganye’s stint in television production as a set photographer for the publicity department. It was there that she became fascinated with set design.

Kganye says, “It was my introduction to working with cardboard cut-outs where I began to think about ways to incorporate this into my art practice.”

The Sea is History on display in the Manor House courtyard
The Sea is History on display in the Manor House courtyard
Image: Supplied

Long struggle

The staged choreography that hearkens back to her time in television is evident in the work.

Kganye confesses she struggled with the materiality for a long time.

“I had done a number of exhibitions that experimented with larger, semipermanent sculptures. The Sea in History comes while it has been long in research — in terms of the materiality and content, this body of work has been seven years in the making. My research speaks to SA’s lighthouses and this work is me restaging the stories that were narrated to me by these lighthouse keepers.”

Kganye’s family name means light and it was digging into her family history that prompted her research on lighthouse keepers. She views herself as the custodian of the family “light” revealing a sense of deep pride in her heritage.

Kganye wants to progress her photo sculptures further by adding motion.

In 2018 she was awarded a residency in Switzerland where she spent time learning about watching-making, mechanisation, automatons and puppet-making — all the mechanising aspects that she needed to bring her work to life. While Kganye started with cardboard cut-outs, the work is currently made from aluminium printing, giving it longevity and durability.

This is the first time she has exhibited her sculptures outdoors and she has learnt to resolve many challenges.

Kganye recently returned to SA from London for a group show at the Tate, A world in Common: Contemporary African Photography, International Touring Exhibition that ended in February and is now heading to Wêreldmuseum in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The Sea is History installation at Boschendal gardens
The Sea is History installation at Boschendal gardens
Image: Supplied

Full circle

“My work has definitely been more visible internationally,” she says.

The artist held her first important exhibition at the Apartheid Museum’s George Bezos gallery, curated by Zeitz MOCAA’s Thato Mogotsi, but it closed soon after opening due to the pandemic, so this moment at Boschendal feels full circle for her.

Her 2024 itinerary is impressive: she’s been shortlisted for the Duetsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, one of the most prestigious international awards for photography in partnership with the Photographers’ Gallery London. After its presentation in London it will move to Frankfurt, Germany, in June.

Kganye will also be giving talks at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, UK, and Duke University in the US, among a number of other international group shows.

“A lot of my work is research based and to finally see this work being actualised has been wonderful,” she says.

Lebohang Kganye’s large-scale 3D pop-up sculptures will be on display at Boschendal x Brundyn gallery until the end of the year.

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