Photography by Charity Vilakazi

‘(in)sight’ the all womxn photographic exhibition intersecting personal experience and society

(in)sight is a photographic exhibition curated by Michelle Harris and Michelle Loukidis of Through The Lens Collective (photographic education and gallery space). The experience of ‘being here now’ is the central theme that binds the photographers of the show’s work together. An exhibition that features all womxn photographers, the list expands to include Sydelle Willow Smith, Whitney Petersen, Bongiwe Phakathi, Mosa Anita Kaiser, Remofiloe Mayisela, and Charity Vilakazi. Photographers for the show were handpicked as talented voices that are not receiving enough public recognition for their work. Collectively these womxn’s work relate to the complexity of personal experience as a factor of group mentality, defining a multifaceted social structure. The photographs on display are tense with history; the political; spirituality; the sociocultural as well as the psycho sexual and the economic. The six photographers represented in the exhibition approach our landscape with a thoughtful insight and sensitivity that speaks in subtle, complicated and powerful ways of our present condition, bringing quiet and intimate observations to public view. 

Memory, migration and identity are the social themes which photographer and video director Sydelle Willow Smith unpacks in her work. Socially aware in her practice she similarly spirals her work around public participation and the hidden power of conversation. Whitney Petersen’s work echoes through cultural, racial and community related discourses. Space, ideas centered around home and belongingness, the domestic and the Self are unpacked in the articulation of photographer, graphic designer and collage artist Bongiwe Phakathi. With an interest in political philosophy Mosa Anita Kaiser engages with the personal narrative intersecting with gender, class, race, religion and spirituality. Self-portraitist Remofiloe Mayisela conceptually unravels the personal and private aspects of Self connecting it to a wider spectrum of social and public narratives. Fine Arts photographer Charity Vilakazi looks into societal roles and the experiences of womxn through self-portraiture.

Photography by Sydelle Willow Smith

“The title (in)sight reflects upon a number of ideas related to the purpose of the exhibition itself. Among others the idea of photographers having a particular type of insight into the world/s that surrounds us, and at another level the idea of visibility, or literally being in sight,” explains Loukidis in our interview.

The selection of female photographers for the show was an intuitive decision Loukidis expresses. “We were interested in reflecting on the idea of ‘being here now’, not as gendered beings, but rather as human beings, whose personal experiences are complex, layered and operate within constantly widening circles of community and society. Incidentally (or not), the photographers who we felt worked in this way happened to be women,” she further explains. Additionally, curators Harris and Loukidis reflected on the practices of the photographers­–respectively they question and challenge their personal positionality and experiences relating to the self, home, history, nationality and community.

(in) sight’s curatorial interest lay in what Loukidis refers to as ‘thinking photography’ “…and photographers who engage critically and sensitively with the world around us, and with the medium of photography itself.” Each womxn behind the lens or should I say Through the Lens, have a thoughtful, sensitive and reflective approach characterized by critical observation. “Although there are clear commonalities in their approach, their individual styles, conceptual interests, personal experiences and backgrounds are diverse. We also have a particular understanding of the work and processes of each photographer, as we have taught all of them,” states Loukidis.

Continuing on this trajectory, the curatorial strategy that is implemented reflects on the relevance of works and their relation to the conversation that the exhibition wishes to have. “The idea is to work in conversation with photographers, rather than choose images by photographers to express our view of things.” By including each photographer’s individual artist statement curators, Harris and Loukidis attempt to place emphasis on the thought process of each individual creator and the way in which this individual thought forms a part of the collective expression in relation to the overall theme. “This also relates to the idea of exploring diverse perspectives and experiences of a shared space.”

In concluding our interview Loukidis leaves me with the following thought, “The notion of Women’s month is neither relevant nor useful to the progression of society, however, it is the particular insight of women on our shared experience as human beings that is of great relevance and importance in our society. Beyond ‘Women’s Day /Month’ as a simultaneously patronising and celebratory public holiday, how much attention is actually payed- not to the roles and challenges of women, but to our individual insights and experiences of the world we live in…and further, how this insight is both a relevant and necessary contribution to our common progress and evolution as a human race.”

(in)sight opens at 12:30 pm this Saturday the 10th August 2019 at Through The Lens Collective Workshop and Gallery Space – Unit 7 i4 at Victoria Yards, Lorentzville, Johannesburg and concludes the 6 October 2019.

Photography by Mosa Anita Kaiser

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