One of the most influential and important photographic artists of the 21st century, Roger Ballen’s photographs span nearly forty years. His strange and extreme works confront the viewer and challenge them to come with him on a journey into their own minds as he explores the deeper recesses of his own.
Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950 but for over 30 years he has lived and worked in South Africa. His work as a geologist took him out into the countryside and led him to take up his camera and explore the hidden world of small South African towns. At first he explored the empty streets in the glare of the midday sun but, once he had made the step of knocking on people’s doors, he discovered a world inside these houses which was to have a profound effect on his work. These interiors with their distinctive collections of objects and the occupants within these closed worlds took his unique vision on a path from social critique to the creation of metaphors for the inner mind. After 1994 he no longer looked to the countryside for his subject matter finding it closer to home in Johannesburg.
Over the years his distinctive style of photography has evolved using a simple square format in stark and beautiful black and white. In the earlier works in the exhibition his connection to the tradition of documentary photography is clear but through the 1990s he developed a style he describes as ‘documentary fiction’. After 2000 the people he first discovered and documented living on the margins of South African society increasingly became a cast of actors working with Ballen in the series’ Outland and Shadow Chamber collaborating to create powerful psychodramas.The line between fantasy and reality in his more recent series’ Boarding House and Asylum of the Birds (to be published in the Spring of 2014 by Thames and Hudson) has become increasingly blurred and in these series he has employed drawings, painting, collage and sculptural techniques to create elaborate sets. People are now often absent altogether; replaced by photographs of people used as props, by doll or dummy parts or where they do appear it’s as disembodied hands, feet and mouths poking disturbingly through walls and pieces of rag. The often improvised scenarios are completed by the unpredictable behaviour of the animals whose ambiguous behaviour is crucial to the overall meaning of the photographs. Ballen has invented a new hybrid aesthetic in these works but one still rooted firmly in black and white photography.
This retrospective covers three decades of work that culminated in the following books, Dorps Small Towns of South Africa 1986, Platteland, Images from Rural South Africa 1994, Outland 2000, Shadow Chamber 2005, Boarding House 2009 through to the new work from the series, Asylum of the Birds 2014.
In addition, the show will also likely to include two of Roger Ballen’s films; in particular I Fink U Freeky which has had nearly 40 million hits on you tube as well as his latest video Asylum of the Birds.
STEVENSON JOHANNESBURG is pleased to present new work by Portia Zvavahera. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Johannesburg, and follows her debut Cape Town exhibition Mavambo Erwendo in January 2014.
Zvavahera exhibits ink paintings on paper and canvas – her interest in the latter reignited after attending an artist’s workshop earlier this year. Discussing her use of oil-based inks (usually used for printing processes) rather than oil paint or acrylic, Zvavahera notes the fluidity and flatness afforded by the ink that allows her to build richly layered surfaces. The relationship between materiality and mark-making is playfully explored in instances where gestural marks begin to mimic the printed textile patterns which appear in several of the new works. The printmaking reference is amplified further in the repetition of particular figures and compositions, reiterating the intensity of the emotional state depicted.
The artist draws upon her deeply held sense of spirituality and accompanying rituals of belief to embody the predominantly female figures within these works, relocating them from the realm of the personal to the transpersonal. Moving beyond literal autobiography and self-portraiture, the figures depicted become archetypal expressions of feminine experiences of faith, relationship and motherhood. Figures are revealed in varying states of reverence, prostration and isolation, and the intensity of these experiences is amplified by the ‘non spaces’ of purple, blue and red in which the figures are held. The ecstasy and suffering depicted unfolds and spreads indefinitely beyond the edges of the image, and is offered back into the world. In these instances the notion of relationship itself becomes significant above all else: relationship with God, with another and with oneself.
Zvavahera was born in 1985 in Juru, Zimbabwe, and lives in Harare. She studied at the BAT Visual Arts Studio under the auspices of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe between 2003 and 2005, after which she obtained a Diploma in Visual Arts from Harare Polytechnic in 2006. She was an artist-in-residence at Greatmore Studios, Cape Town, in 2009. Zvavahera held a solo exhibition, Under My Skin, at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, in 2010. In 2013 she was the recipient of the 10th Tollman Award for the Visual Arts. She represented Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale in 2013 as part of the exhibition Dudziro: Interrogating the Visions of Religious Beliefs at the Zimbabwean Pavilion, curated by Raphael Chikukwa.