A past picture for possible futures
with Lebohang Kganye
An instruction, Lebohang Kganye and Sue Williamson’s exhibition, Tell Me What You Remember invites the audience to question the museum archive as the authority of memory. Featured in this week’s review we use the exhibition to reflect on what we remember and how.
It is acceptable to consider archives as evidence of memories. But often personal, who do we assign their ownership to? Aware of this, multidisciplinary artist Lebohang Kganye dissects memory and its affects through the mediums of photography, collage, film, sculpture, performance and installation. “Understanding my identity as a young Black South African woman through stories from an older generation is really what shaped my practice,” corroborates Kganye.
Catalysed by the grief that came following her mother’s death, Kanye began to gather the clothes she saw her mother wearing in family photo albums. “I was scared that I was beginning to forget what my mother looked like, what she sounded like, and her defining gestures. The photomontages became a substitute for the paucity of memory, a forged identification and imagined conversation,” she explains.
Although previous presentations centred around her interior, Tell Me What You Remember at Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia uses her personal archive to catalyse a collective remembering.
While reading through Tell Me What You Remember, there are two distinct threads running between Lebohang Kganye and Sue Williamson’s work. The first is positioning black women as their protagonists. The second is the context. Although in different parts of South Africa, both bodies of work contemplate apartheid South Africa as lived and experienced by black femmes.
Subjects Williamson encountered and women Kganye knows, all subjects included could offer personal accounts when prompted to Tell Me What You Remember.
Then there are the differences. A stalwart whose practice is embedded in her activism, Williamson witnessed the stories she tells. However, remembering experiences that she did not live, but has inherited, Kganye’s position is a challenging one because witnessing in retrospect can render her helpless. However in reenacting her mother’s life and inserting herself into major historical events, Kganye’s practice becomes a meditative reminder of what her femme predecessors, in spite of their situations, loved and lived through.
Regardless of the fact that it is meditating on history and the way it is archived, Tell Me What You Remember feels contemporary. Beyond the nostalgic drawcard as well as the interracial and intergenerational aspects of the visual conversation, the artists’ respective use of care is prominent. Delicate and sincere; even to the avoidant, the offer to recount what we remember seems worth a shot.