MUSA N. NXUMALO
In Search Of…
05.02.15 – 28.02.15
In Search Of… is an exhibition by emerging Johannesburg-based photographer Musa N. Nxumalo, who has recently been nominated for the prestigious First Book Award. The exhibition features photographs from two bodies of work produced between 2008 and 2012 that focus on the theme of young, black, alternative culture as experienced and uniquely observed by Nxumalo. The exhibition concentrates on these subjects, whilst the book continues to include the artist’s most recent projects.
Alternative Kidz and In/Glorious, the two projects making up this exhibition, were partly produced under the auspices of the Edward Ruiz Mentorship programme, whilst Nxumalo was attending the Market Photo Workshop. These works document “the melting pot that is urban youth culture in Johannesburg, by focusing on the social phenomena of black youths who identify with the predominantly white alternative culture and the parties that these groups attend”.
While at the Market Photo Workshop, Nxumalo studied alongside Sabelo Mlangeni and the late Thabiso Sekgala, who together are often associated with a new generation of black photographers. There are thematic and stylistic similarities in the work of these three artists, but individually, each forges a subtle and distinct contemporary visual language, distinguishing themselves as new independent cultural voices.
Through first-hand observation and intuitive documentation, Nxumalo repositions his peers to negate the prevailing social stereotyping and inherent cultural preconceptions. Art writer and journalist Sean O’Toole describes Nxumalo’s subjects as; “Soweto’s skinny jeans crowd, twenty-something black kids sloughing off the constraints of their assigned identities – Zulu, Xhosa, kwaito, hip hop, BEE, choose your prejudice – and doing things differently.” Arts correspondent, Mary Corrigall, links Nxumalo’s photographs to “Generation Disappointment”, an age-group whose raised and then unfulfilled expectations have left them disgruntled and confused, torn between the promise of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and the harsh reality of everyday life, as well as an increasing sense of abandonment and disillusionment with government and authority in general.
Evoking the work of American photographers Larry Clark and Nan Goldin, Nxumalo is both voyeur and participant, providing a unique and intimate view of his world. Collectively, these photographs reflect elements of self-portraiture and a singular view of a world in which the artist is personally immersed. Despite the subjective nature of these portraits, they remain distant and restrained – extending the reach and appeal of these enigmatic images far beyond their local context.
Nxumalo is not a documentary photographer per se and his photographs tie in with the aesthetic and new generational trend of ‘wrong’ photography. Similar to the evolution of other art forms such as sculpture and painting, photography has moved on and strategies such as cropped images, blurred focus, off-center composition and other elements of amateur photography are commonplace today. These strategies add directly to the mood, mystery and intensity of Nxumalo’s work. The attitude and spirit of youth culture almost demands an anti-formalist and laid-back approach. Informal, snapshot photography has become part of everyday life and it is clearly affecting and challenging conventional views of fine art photography.
Ken Miller, the author and editor of the book SHOOT, published by Rizzoli in 2009, which focuses on photographers who ‘capture a moment’, states that; “I gained a profound appreciation of the skill involved in walking into a situation, camera in hand, and creating a striking, dynamic image without relying on an elaborate staged set-up. It seems like the simplest thing (just ‘point and shoot’) but it’s in fact the hardest, most skillful variety of photography to practice. There are no second takes when you’re engaged with the moment. So I wanted to pay tribute to that skill and energy”. In Miller’s view, those who use the snapshot to capture the moment define photography of the moment.
Currently, Nxumalo’s work is included in Peregrinate, an exhibition in Côte d’Ivoire hosted by the Goethe Institute and in Next Generation: Emerging Photographers from South Africa at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College in New York.