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An archive of inspiration, negotiating the world through artistic intervention

Andrew Putter: Native Work (Capetown, South Africa)

Gallery Statement:

This new installation comprises 21 black-and-white photographs of contemporary black Capetonians, in ‘tribal’ or ‘traditional’ costume in the genre of the iconic ethnographic photographer Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin. These are displayed in a grid alongside the same subjects photographed in colour, where the sitters chose what they wished to wear based on how they see themselves.

'Cognizant of the dangers inherent in Duggan-Cronin's colonial, ethnographic approach to making images, Native Work nevertheless recognises an impulse of tenderness running through his project,’ writes Putter in an article about his project published recently in the journal Kronos: Southern African Histories. ’By trusting this impulse in Duggan-Cronin’s photographs, Native Work attempts to provoke another way of reading these images, and to use them in the making of new work motivated by the desire for social solidarity, a desire which emerges as a particular kind of historical possibility in the aftermath of apartheid.’

By exploring his own complex feelings towards an ideologically tainted but aesthetically compelling visual archive, Putter enters the fraught terrain of ethnographic representation to wrestle with himself about his own complicity, as an artist and a white South African, in this troubled visual legacy. Art critic Alex Dodd writes that this new work ‘constitutes one of those rare instances in which it becomes unmistakably clear to the viewer that the primacy of authorial intention has everything to do with the subtle alchemy that determines the meaning and affective power of images. In this case, the immense respect and tenderness that went into the making of the photographs registers visually as a kind of auratic quality of dignity that shines through each and every portrait.’

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