“Presence: Five Contemporary African Photographers”

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The subject of this exhibition is Africa, as seen and experienced by five contemporary African photographers. This Africa is by no means an exoticized continent or a primitive, timeless whole.

In Grand Entrance, 2019, Amilton Neves Cuna, who hails from Maputo, Mozambique, delves into the inhabited ruins of the Grand Hotel of the coastal city of Beira. Despite the atmosphere of catastrophe, the space is teeming with resilience. Sunlight floods the once-majestic rotunda, illuminating signs of life that offset the surrounding desolation: a mother climbing a stone staircase with a baby in her arms, pieces of laundry drying on a sagging clothesline.

Fellow Mozambican Mário Macilau’s black-and-white photographs do not sensationalize Maputo’s economically marginalized communities, but instead index their social invisibility. In Two Boys with a Fish, 2018, the arm of one boy unwittingly covers the face of the other, rendering him anonymous. Meanwhile, Nonzuzo Gxekwa captures signifiers of Johannesburg youth culture; an Afro comb used by one young man and a jacket that reads “Chiefs” worn by another are articles of pride and self-affirmation. In another work by a South African photographer, Anke Loots’s Untitled (Garden Route), 2020, a ghostly yet foreboding cloud hovers above a mountain whose curvature resembles that of a human body. The picture’s subtle surrealism echoes in Léonard Pongo’s Red Landscape, 2019. Pongo, who is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, captures a figure whose face we cannot see crossing strange, Martian terrain—an image whose indeterminacy departs from the representations of poverty and suffering bound to this continent for too long.

Translated from Portuguese by Jane Brodie.

Felipe Scovino

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