Currently being hosted at the Iziko South African National Art Gallery is Jodi Bieber’s mid-career photography exhibition entitled Between Darkness and Light. The exhibition features over 100 photographs spanning the years 1994, marking South Africa’s democratic transition, to 2011.
Some photographs viewers may recognise from her more prominent works while others have risen out of the abyss from her lesser known series. One thing is for sure, though, her photographic style is raw daring the viewer to look away from haunting, inescapable truths. She documents human suffering in an unglorified manner as it occurs throughout South Africa and the world. And yet, we see the resilience, strength and beauty of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Upon entering the exhibition hall, one’s eye fixates upon a collection of photographs that feature dirty needles and punctured skin, derelict toys and possessions from a bygone life and a drug-addled community living on the fringes of society. In this series, Bieber sheds lights on Las Canas – a mining dump in Spain which has fallen victim to rife poverty, crime, homelessness and various kinds of addiction. The vacant look of a man injecting himself with an unknown substance while clasping onto a mobile device depicts the relative normalcy of the situation – a routine act to escape a deprived reality.
Real Beauty questions the media’s construct of beauty by way of photographing real women with bodily imperfections. The idea is to depict their raw beauty in spite of or because of their flaws. In essence, their flaws are what make them all the more beautiful. The photographs feature women in the comforts of their home environments in various states of undress. The series ends with an elderly woman in her kitchen, in a background of pots and pans, wearing her black hoserie while clasping at a cigarette and smirking at the camera. These images are powerful allowing women to take ownership of their sexuality, be proud of their bodies and challenge society’s idealised perceptions of what it means to be beautiful.
South Africa’s democratic transition in 1994 was a volatile time for our country, and Bieber’s Between Dogs and Wolves documents the coloured township of Westbury – an area overrun by gangsterism, violence and crime. Photographs of children with the muzzles of toy guns in their mouths and preteens smoking cigarettes points to a loss of innocence due to a miscellany of bad influences. Meanwhile, Bieber’s later works of Soweto aims to disprove the negative stereotypes of the Johannesburg township by portraying the everyday, mundane living of its residents. Here, you’ll see the best-dressed man with his dazzling, golden rings; a couple of giggling Gertie’s playing games; posies in a cut-out fanta bottle and a lesbian couple proudly showing off their love for one another.
Between Darkness and Light is an honest depiction of adversity and hardship but also captures scenes of happiness, hope and resilience. While Jodi brings to light harsh realities she does not portray her subjects as victims but people capable of fighting on.
Where Iziko South African National Gallery, 25 Queen Victoria Street, CBD
When Friday 28 August – Thursday 19 November 2015 10 am – 5 pm
Contact +27 21 481 3970, www.iziko.org