8.08.2014

Dialogues, from Africa: Juan Orrantia and Musa Nxumalo

From the series "In/Glorious (Home)" © Musa Nxumalo

Post by Juan Orrantia

"Dialogues, from Africa" is a series made in response to Alejandro Cartagena's running series in fototazo, that wants to extend the dialogue across the Atlantic, but further south. Having been based in Johannesburg for some time now, I have always felt the need to create a space of dialogue where photographers working in Africa and Latin America learn about each other's work, but that is not filtered through the galleries or mainstream media of the global north. The world we live in is not one where limits are traced easily, and within these spaces photographic traditions are increasingly varied, recognized, ignored and reconceptualized. Africa is as complex and varied as Latin America, and this series wants to recognize the current engagements of photographers from the continent with their own histories and the current environments of contemporary photography. In so doing we hope to open a space that enables a dialogue with their peers in Latin America.

The first post in the series was with Alexia Webster.

Juan Orrantia (b. Bogota, Colombia, based in Johannesburg, South Africa) Relying on the evocative as a form of documentary his photographic works use banality and imagination as sites from where to explore experiences of the aftermath of violence; the lives and affects of postcolonial cities; memory and the cocaine trade; and the legacies of anticolonial thinker Amilcar Cabral. Awards include the Tierney Fellowship in Photography, solo exhibitions in Germany, Colombia and South Africa, as well as participation in various group shows including the New York Photo Festival, Le Cube (Paris), Cape Town Month of Photography, Bonani Africa Festival of Photography and Ethnographic Terminalia (New Orleans). His work has appeared in fototazo, Foto 8, Sensate, and other online media platforms and journals.

Musa Nxumalo received the Edward Ruiz Mentorship Award in 2008 for his work, "Alternative-Kidz." Other acknowledgements include the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans, 2010, and the Impact Award For Young Professionals, 2010. He held solo exhibitions of this work at the Market Photo Workshop and Afronova Gallery (Johannesburg). He has also been part of international group shows such as My Joburg: Maison Rouge Gallery, Paris – 2013; Urban Scenographies, Reunion Island – 2013; Space BetweenUs, ifa-Galerie, Berlin, 2013.

Nxumalo studied photography at The Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg.
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From the series "In/Glorious (Home)" © Musa Nxumalo

Juan Orrantia: Where are you based? Why?

Musa Nxumalo: I am based in Soweto and work in Johannesburg. I guess partly because I was born here and that my work thus far has a particular interest in this setting and my family. Otherwise I consider myself a world citizen based in South Africa

JO: How and why did you starting working in photography?

MN: It was partly because photography was the only opportunity that availed itself other than the ordinary jobs I guess. When I got my hands on it, I just couldn't imagine myself working in other mediums. It is me, photography and other ventures that it will open up until my casket drops.

From the series "In/Glorious (Home)" © Musa Nxumalo


From the series "In/Glorious (Home)" © Musa Nxumalo

JO: What are your projects about, and major themes in your work?

MN: I am currently working on a project -  www.nkabanhle.com - that incorporates a variety of interconnected bodies of work, the project is a kind of a documentation of a journey to self-discovery, and learning to adapt to the society (South Africa) that is also in the process of discovering and shaping itself. The project is accompanied by the experimental series of introspections in a form of short writings that I am compiling via my online diary/journal.

Some of the explored themes in this project are ideas of the concept of family, which is explored intensely on "A Half Built House" where I merely work with my family album. I explore the adoption of subcultures ("Alternative-Kidz") as a form of refusing social stereotyping and loyalty to glamorization of the Township culture.

So, the work kind of progressed into "In/Glorious," where I could say it continues the dialogue and in this work I look at the not-so-glamorous and entertaining township and I rather choose to explore the township in a manner that I experience it everyday, my reality and that of a lot of its occupants.

From the series "In/Glorious (Home)" © Musa Nxumalo

JO: What is your experience with other photographers and traditions from the (African) continent? How did you learn of them or their work?

MN: I have been part of the portfolio meetings formed by Simon Njami and The Goethe Institute South Africa, the meetings are very intimate and feature young photographers from various parts of the continent and one gets to see and hear the diversity of issues that each of us are exploring in our countries. That has been the greater influence in the shift or direction that my work took since my first body of work ("Alternative-Kidz").

From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo


From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo

JO: How do you feel your young approach speaks/rejects/debates or expands themes or works in South African photography of the previous generation?

MN: I am fond of Ernest Cole and Santu Mofokeng. I see myself in their work and ideas that they have explored, their wander in search of something that seems impossible to touch yet very present in their journey through life. My work takes a lot from these photographers, especially seeing that they are not creating art pieces in a sense that we understand art to be, and they are not journalists in the way that we understand photojournalism, but their work is somewhere in between that and its heavily influence by the environment they are in and they respond from their hearts. This is the direction I believe my process and work is speaking to.

From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo


Emdeni Kas'lam Facebook group update, From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo


From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo

JO: Are there themes or styles that your work shares with other African photographers?

MN: I believe so. I am currently working with Mimi Cherono Ng'ok and Thabiso Sekgala for a show at the Jo'burg Art fair and later the show will go to the Goethe-Institute in Johannesburg. We are exploring a theme that we have found to be common in our work…the idea of Peregrination (follow my diary posts on www.musannxumalo.com/diary and @mn_nxumalo for more info on this). We are producing a publication to go with this so I wouldn't want to spoil the project by giving too much here.

From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo

JO: Where do you see your work going otherwise, how is your practice evolving?

MN: Entrepreneurship is something that I am exploring together with my work. To respond to the "practice" part of your question, I have always admired Steven Harrington as far as visual art and entrepreneurship goes. I have started TheOperator Jhb (Pty) Ltd, and I have big plans for it, which I am taking baby steps in developing. This will be my full focus once the Nkabanhle project has resolved itself into a book.

From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo


From the series "In/Glorious (Neighborhood)" © Musa Nxumalo