Piecing together Pluralities of Being
It’s difficult to work out what exactly it is you’re looking at when viewing the new Gallery MOMO exhibition. There are images of space. There are images of pop stars. There are South African coastal scenes, graphite sketches, thick, leafy trees – sometimes all of them at once.
Titled Pluralities of Being, the show is the first solo exhibition in South Africa for renowned American artist Todd Gray. Who is Todd Gray? Well, he’s perhaps best known as having been the personal photographer to none other than Michael Jackson, who features prominently in this body of work.
Having recently taken part in a NIROX residency in Joburg, Gray has built up numerous works, all made in Johannesburg. These are then remixed with the images of Jackson he took over the years. The graphite drawings, explains the exhibition statement, were inspired by UCT professor Francis Nyamnjoh’s book, Drinking From the Cosmic Gourd: How Amos Tutuola Can Change Our Minds, as well as a work by Nigerian visual artist Vicktor Ehikhamenor which sits at the NIROX Sculpture Park.
Hanging on the walls of the Parkhurst gallery space are found and repurposed frames, often spilling over onto one another, overlapping and building up to a single piece. In each work, a frame contains a natural image – muscular branches, forest greens, still waters, deep space – and most often, these images are placed over a black and white image of Jackson – whether he’s on stage, at home, or on the road.
The images are striking and beautifully manipulated, but what is it that Gray is trying to do, exactly?
“Pluralities of Being disrupts and questions the role photography plays in the transmission of history and cultural identity,” explains the artist statement. “The work is collaged directly onto the gallery walls, framed photographs overlap and form photographic sculptural reliefs that further question where the image, space and content begin and end. Colliding with a new body of drawings made during his time on residency, Gray reframes and reveals an intimate and collective post-colonial, transatlantic memory.”
Taken as a whole, the body of work is a dreamy take on memory and storytelling. Gray’s works are both a disruption of single stories, and an attempt at rethinking the process of image-making and how images come to shape our ideas of people, places, and identities.
Pluralities of Being is on exhibition at Gallery MOMO until 7 October. Find out more about the show here.by Dave Mann