South African artist, Lebohang Kganye, navigates the complex terrain of memory, identity, and family ties. Through her innovative use of photographic techniques and multimedia installations, Kganye not only creates visually stunning artworks but also contributes to the broader conversation about social issues that affect Black people, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Reduced Inequalities.

Kganye's artistic journey into photography began when she lost her mother. Faced with the challenge of preserving their connection, she turned to her mother's photographs as a starting point. She then realized that her mother's images held the key to their shared history, prompting Kganye to embark on a creative exploration of how photographs carried memories and lived experiences.

Photograph of Lebohang Kganye. Image courtesy of Lebohang Kganye’s website.

She dove into her mother's archives, meticulously selecting materials that represented not only her memories but also the collective "histories" they shared. Kganye then created a series of photo montages that incorporated her wearing clothes from her mother's archive and emulating the poses she found in her old photographs. 

After successfully recreating scenes from her family album, she digitally manipulated the images to fuse the past and present. This technique, reminiscent of historic ghost photography, adds layers of meaning to the visuals. The resulting images retain the authenticity of the originals but carry a contemporary significance, making them a powerful medium for storytelling.

3-phisi yaka ya letlalo II by Lebohang Kganye. Image courtesy of Lens Culture.

The performative aspect of Kganye's work is integral to both her pieces and also her healing process. Through gestures, poses, and expressions, she not only reconnects with her mother but also engages in a profound act of self-discovery. The photomontages become a substitute for fading memories, allowing Kganye to forge a new identification and engage in an imagined conversation with her late mother. In this deeply personal exploration, she blurs the lines between herself and her mother, emphasizing a shared commonality despite the differences in space and time.

Kganye's work also extends beyond personal narratives to address broader societal issues in Pied Piper's Voyage. The piece is a video made out of collages of her portraits and family photos which she uses to reenact her family's journey of moving to the city—a common narrative for many South African families during apartheid. Displacement and the work search are themes that resonate with the historical struggles faced by Black communities.

Still from Pied Piper's Voyage by Lebohang Kganye. Image courtesy of I’M Firenze Digest.

Through her art, Kganye documents her family's history, interweaving it with the broader context of South Africa's complex past. The uprooting and resettlement of families due to apartheid laws and land acts become central motifs, highlighting the profound impact of historical inequalities on personal and collective identities.

Kganye also works with installations, marked by intricate details and multimedia elements, creating immersive experiences. In Reconstruction of a Family, she continues to explore the themes of memory, identity, and temporality. Here, she again uses personal archival materials to construct cardboard cutouts of family photographs, adding a layer of depth to her storytelling. Kganye also turns members of her family into characters, icons in white backgrounds made of Black silhouettes—creating an anonymous yet relatable narrative, inviting viewers to contemplate the shared human experience.

Reconstruction of a Family by Lebohang Kganye. Image courtesy of PhMuseum.

In discussing her creative process, Kganye acknowledges an "awkward relationship" with technology. Despite incorporating digital manipulation, she expresses a preference for the physicality of cutting and manipulating materials. This tension between the tangible and the digital reflects her commitment to preserving the emotional connection in her artwork.

Looking ahead, Kganye desires to explore puppetry and set and theatre design. Her artistic journey, marked by experimentation and a deep response to loss and mourning, continues to evolve. The potential exploration of life-size installations animated through lights and shadows hints at the ongoing richness of her artistic exploration.

Lebohang Kganye's transformative approach to photography goes beyond the aesthetics of visual art. Her work becomes a profound exploration of identity, memory, and the interconnectedness of personal and collective histories. Through the fusion of real and imagined storytelling, she invites viewers to contemplate the shared human experience and the importance of preserving and sharing Black stories. In Kganye's art, photography becomes a powerful tool for healing, connection, and advocacy.

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