Appropriated Landscapes

Appropriated Landscapes

Walther Collection

David Goldblatt, “In Boksburg: Saturday afternoon in Sunward Park, Boksburg,” 1979–1980.*

August 20, 2011

Appropriated Landscapes
16 June 2011–13 May 2012

Reichenauerstrasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm

Includes photography and video by Jane Alexander, Mitch Epstein, Ângela Ferreira, Peter Friedl, David Goldblatt, Christine Meisner, Sabelo Mlangeni, Santu Mofokeng, Zanele Muholi, Jo Ractliffe, Penny Siopis, Mikhael Subotzky/Patrick Waterhouse and Guy Tillim

Contemporary landscape photography of Southern Africa is focus of the second exhibition at the Walther Collection in Germany

Curated by Corinne Diserens, Appropriated Landscapes explores landscape typologies, mainly of Southern Africa, presenting works by fourteen artists: Jane Alexander, Ângela Ferreira, Peter Friedl, David Goldblatt, Christine Meisner, Sabelo Mlangeni, Santu Mofokeng, Zanele Muholi, Jo Ractliffe, Penny Siopis, Mikhael Subotzky/Patrick Waterhouse, Guy Tillim, and—with his North American landscapes—Mitch Epstein.

The concept of landscape in Appropriated Landscapes is not exclusively linked to the historical perception of the picturesque and the sublime but considers landscape as a prism of experience, a reflection of ideology, and an embodiment of memory. It looks at built structures and monuments. To borrow the words of Santu Mofokeng, this use of the word “landscape” stretches it to “its fullest in order to invoke literal, colloquial, psychological, philosophical, mystical, metaphysical and metonymic meanings and applications.” Appropriated Landscapes invokes landscapes in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique, containing traces of the region’s history and its geopolitical configuration, through wars, migration, colonialism, and industrialization. Many of the artists presented here have created images through topographical studies, explorations of nomadic peripheries and in-between spaces, or chronicles of social geography altered by divisive spatial planning and modern architecture. The exhibition captures multiple possibilities of constructing and reading different landscapes, in both their contexts of production and their reception. As a result of shared systems of beliefs and ideologies, these landscapes are a construct of the mind—”built up as much from the strata of memory as from layers of rock.” The narrative of the exhibition also investigates architecture and spatial planning not only as the image of the social order, but also as that which preserves or even imposes the social order.

Green House
The cornerstone of the exhibition is a dual presentation in the Green House of works by South African photographers David Goldblatt and Santu Mofokeng. For more than sixty years, Goldblatt has been documenting the changing landscape, giving particular attention to the ways in which architecture and spatial planning reflected the ideology of apartheid, and how the land bears its legacy in post-apartheid South Africa. His examination of the complexities of the built environment and the deeply divisive structures of spatial planning of South Africa is, in part, about actual structures—bricks, mortar, mud, and corrugated iron—but it is also about ideological structuring. Goldblatt charts in his photographs of these buildings the mental constructs that underpinned the structures of South Africa in its colonial era and the apartheid years to reveal the many ways in which ideology has shaped our landscape.

Santu Mofokeng’s photo essays afford insights into the Soweto of his youth, everyday life on farms and in townships, religious rituals, and landscapes. They constitute a genuine archive of rural life in South Africa and of the images of the personal and family histories of black South Africans, beyond the stereotypical news pictures of Soweto depicting violence or poverty. In 1996, Mofokeng began to photograph rituals performed in caves for his ongoing photographic essay Chasing Shadows, which inquires into the relationships between landscape, memory, and religion. With his more recent essays Trauma Landscapes and Landscape and Memory, Mofokeng went further in the exploration of landscapes and photographed places imbued with historical significance and memories such as concentration camps and graves. This concept of landscape as the mute witness to history, imbued with spiritual meaning and memories, will resonate with Christine Meisner’s last and recent work related to rivers. In the video “…, ‘can you turn back?’ “, 2007/08, she started to conceive the river Congo as a stream of time, which absorbs stories while traveling through the land disemboguing in a circular flow of past and present. Her newly commissioned video “Disquieting Nature” explores the historical relation between landscape and sound, violence and its resistance in the Mississippi River area of the United States. Both video works will be (after each other) on view in the Green House cinema on the lower level.

Black House
In the Black House, Jo Ractliffe presents the portfolio As Terras do Fim do Mundo, her ongoing photographic engagement with Angola’s war-torn countryside and “landscape of leftovers”. She first read about Angola in Another Day of Life, Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book about events leading to Angola’s independence and subsequent civil war. Her reading was ten years after the book was written, a time when South Africa was experiencing increasing mobilization against the forces of the apartheid government, which was also fighting its own war in Angola against the Namibian liberation movement, SWAPO. As Ractliffe writes, “In the 1970s and early 80s, it was simply ‘The Border,’ a secret location where brothers and boyfriends were sent as part of their military service. And although tales about Russians and Cubans and the Cold War began to emerge—all of which conjured up a distinctly different image from the one conveyed by the South African state—it remained for me, a place of myth.” Ractliffe went first to Luanda in 2007, five years after the end of the war, to work on her project Terreno Ocupado. Over the two ensuing years, she traveled with South African and Angolan ex-soldiers through what Portuguese colonials referred to as “As Terras do Fim do Mundo”—the lands of the end of the world—exploring how past trauma manifests in the Angolan landscape of today. Remarkable for their forensic and symbolic significance, these images capture eerily quiet countryside vistas, which upon further inspection reveal themselves to be unidentified memorials, unmarked mass graves, and minefields.

White Box
Central to the exhibition in the White Box are narratives and images of South African and Mozambican man-altered landscapes, architecture, social rituals, and migration. It embraces images of African industrial urban disfigurement, poisoned landscapes, ecological or natural disaster, and brings them into dialogue with Mitch Epstein’s project American Power. His large scale color photographs depicting energy production sites related to American society’s rapacious culture, the repercussions of westward expansionism on the landscape, and a general depletion of natural resources provide context in which to consider the relationship between African and American pictorial strategies with regard to the landscape.

In South Africa, the apartheid regime was busy distributing the black population into ethnically defined homelands, and maintaining these sites as reservoirs of cheap labor for white industry and mines. With her photomontages composed of photographs of Cape Town and its surrounding environment, and images of her sculpted figures that follow geographical trajectory from the country to the city, Jane Alexander fully addresses those issues. Sabelo Mlangeni’s photographs from the At Home series, subtle images of forgotten land and villages, don’t speak of the many problems that plague these villages such as poor sanitation, teenage pregnancy, lack of basic information and the increasing number of orphans but show them in a distinct tranquility and spaciousness. With his Country Girls series, Mlangeni gives an intimate portrait of gay life in the countryside apart from violence and discrimination. Zanele Muholi’s work is a visual exploration of women loving women. She employs the landscape of the physical body to interrogate how one claims ground on a land where one’s identity is negated or reviled. Based on the telling of individual and exile stories, legendary figures or myths, Penny Siopis, and Peter Friedl’s lyrical film and video works transport the viewers to the sites of historical constructions, and to a history, in which the dialectic of coloniality and modernity reverberates.

These images of man-altered, social, or imaginary landscapes resonate with Guy Tillim’s investigations of modernist architecture’s utopian claims. His photographic series Avenue Patrice Lumumba portrays the crumbling institutional buildings—post offices, schools, hotels, and offices—that were built by colonial governments. These images of modernist architecture in decay are not merely documents of collapsed histories of post-colonial African states, but a walk through avenues of (lost) dreams. Whereas Mikhael Subotzky’s and Patrick Waterhouse’s 12-channel digital slide projection provides a multitude of perspectives on the contemporary skyline of the city of Johannesburg from the point of view of the residents of its monolithic Ponte City Tower, the second-floor gallery will present eight color panoramas of Jo Ractliffe’s series Johannesburg Inner City Works, each of which capture multiple images of a neighborhood within the city and stitches them together into one expansive frame.

Through her project For Mozambique (ongoing since 2008), Ângela Ferreira investigates the cinema workshops that anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch held between 1976 and 1978 in post-independence Mozambique, both in Maputo at the Eduardo Mondlane University and in rural areas throughout the country. With Political Cameras, her three-dimensional mobile device installed on the ground floor and inspired by the maize silo built by the peasants participating in the filming in rural areas, Ferreira renders the immediacy of the processing and screening in Maputo and in communal villages during Rouch’s Super-8 film workshops.


A comprehensive book, published by Steidl, will accompany the exhibition, featuring the work of Jane Alexander, Mitch Epstein, Ângela Ferreira, Peter Friedl, David Goldblatt, Christine Meisner, Sabelo Mlangeni, Santu Mofokeng, Zanele Muholi, Jo Ractliffe, Penny Siopis, Mikhael Subotzky / Patrick Waterhouse, and Guy Tillim. With a curatorial essay by Corinne Diserens, an essay on Mitch Epstein by Brian Wallis; textual contributions by each artist— including historical and literary reprints—unique narrative artist “portraits” by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, and full-page color reproductions.

Contemporary African Photography from The Walther Collection
Appropriated Landscapes
Edited by Corinne Diserens

408 pages, 207 tritone plates
32 x 24 cm
Cloth-bound hardcover with dust jacket
ISBN 978-3-86930-387-1

Published by the Walther Collection/Steidl in June 2011

About the Walther Family Foundation

The Walther Family Foundation is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to researching, collecting, exhibiting, and publishing modern and contemporary photography and video art. Founded in the traditions of European and American photography, the collection has expanded to incorporate works across regions, periods, and artistic sensibilities, giving particular focus to artists and photographers working in Africa and Asia. Through its in-depth exhibitions and vigorous publishing program, the Foundation showcases photography and video that advances the history and understanding of the medium.

The Foundation has two exhibition spaces: the Walther Collection in Neu-Ulm / Burlafingen, Germany, and the Walther Collection Project Space in New York City. 

The Walther Collection
Reichenauerstrasse 21
89233 Neu-Ulm / Burlafingen

The Walther Collection Project Space
526 West 26th Street, Suite 718
New York, NY 10001

Media Contacts:

Markus Mueller
Bureau Mueller
Tel: +49-30-20188432

Juliet Sorce / Alina Sumajin
Resnicow Schroeder Associates
Tel: 001-212-671-5158 / 5155
jsorce /

*Image above:
(c) David Goldblatt. Courtesy the artist.
and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

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Walther Collection
August 20, 2011

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