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Peregrinate – A photo exhibition exploring notions of time and space

September 30, 2015
Peregrinate installation shot. By Lara Buchmann

Peregrinate installation shot. Photo by Lara Buchmann.

By Martha Kazungu

This exclusive photo exhibition entitled Peregrinate: Field Notes on Time Travel and Space was opened on the 10th of September 2015, at Makerere Art Gallery/Institute of Heritage Conservation and Restoration (IHCR).

Peregrinate is the second exhibition of young African photographers who have just “graduated” from a pan-African photography masterclass; the Photographer’s Portfolio Meetings. The first exhibition of its kind to be hosted at Makerere Art Gallery was Witness/Témoin two years ago. The so called photography masterclass is a long term workshop with annual meetings in different African countries initiated and run by Simon Njami in collaboration with Goethe Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa. During these workshops, a group of young photographers undergoes a one on one interaction and mentorship with experienced curators in the field of photography and contemporary art. Beyond studying photography, these students get the opportunity to use photography to represent subtle themes in their vicinity.

Featuring the photographers Musa Nxumalo, and the late Thabiso Sekgala from South Africa as well as Mimi Cherono Ng’ok from Kenya, the Peregrinate exhibition expresses the myriad ways in which societies respond to notions of time and space alongside its divergent functions. Each of the artists was allocated one of the three functional compartments at Makerere Art Gallery. In the first one by the entrance were Thabiso Sekgala‘s photographs, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok’s in the middle and Musa Nxumalo’s in the third.

Thabiso Sekgala

Thabiso Sekgala was born in 1981 in Johannesburg, South Africa and died on 15th of October 2014. Between 2007 and 2008, he studied at the Market Photo Workshop and was awarded the Tierney Fellowship in 2010. Sekgala has participated in solo exhibitions in Johannesburg, Berlin and Brussels and has also displayed his work in group exhibitions internationally. Sekgala’s work, beyond focusing on South African communities facing the long shadow of apartheid, explores themes of belonging, rejection and memory in many other African countries.

Thabiso Sekgala, Mmadume kgafeli, from the series Second Transition, 2012.

Thabiso Sekgala, Mmadume kgafeli, from the series Second Transition, 2012.

It is evident that Sekgala has the trust of the people he portrays in his photographs, as they appear to act natural rather than posing for the camera. That is something, which enables him to capture people the way they are and not the way they want to be visualized. For example, in the photograph of the wedding, the bride and everyone else in the photograph does not appear happy, something which is considerably strange. Under common circumstances, at least in all wedding photographs I have seen before, the couple is always smiling. What could have happened to this one is not known but the facial expression on all these people makes one to wonder about what has become of marriages today not only in Africa but also in the rest of the world. Is it that the couple is worried about whatever they are getting themselves into? Or was the wedding budget so stretched that it also bought the smiles? Considering the uncertainties surrounding and within this topic in this generation, one could ask any question.

In another one of Sekgala’s photographs, an elderly lady bends as she writes on a black board, which is supported by three logs of wood, while a mass of creeping vegetation, spreads horizontally on a dry wooden log to create shade provides an open space for a “classroom”. In the distant background, where earth and sky meet, amidst the shimmering heat of unrelenting sun, a small hut with a conical thatch is seen in front of stunted shrubs.

Thabiso Sekgala brings to reality that children in many parts of Africa are still living and schooling under conditions that many people in developed countries cannot even begin to imagine actually exist. He triggers one’s sense of memory to experience a new notion different from the already existing perception of a school and home respectively. Hence, in this photograph, Sekgala starts a simple but firm dialogue about education on the African continent.

Peregrinate installation shot. Photo by Lara Buchmann

Peregrinate installation shot. Photo by Lara Buchmann

Although many people perceive education as the possible redemptive factor for Uganda and Africa at large, the sector continuously undergoes verified criticisms from a section of people. From dissatisfied teachers to “corrupted’’ syllabi, the problems with in this sector are arguably still a huge challenge.

Besides this photograph, there is an invisible yet present degree of loneliness that dresses many of Sekgala’s photographs, something which deters one from actually understanding the message in the photograph to contemplating about why he is no more. Just like Mimi Cherono Ng’ok says in her letter to him “Every one wonders why you left so soon.”

Mimi Cherono Ng’ok

Mimi Cherono Ng’ok is a Kenyan photographer who lives and works in Nairobi. In 2006 she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts from the University of Cape Town.

Cherono’s volume of work is not only outstanding but also carries a high level of originality. This among other things enabled her receive support from the Edward Ruiz Photography Mentorship Award, with which she was able to complete photographic series on African immigrants living in South Africa. These she solely exhibited in Market Photo Gallery and in Maputo. Cherono has also graced several other exhibitions both within Africa and beyond.

Peregrinate installation shot. By Lara Buchmann

Peregrinate installation shot. Photo by Lara Buchmann.

Despite her young age, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok is arguably one of the most prominent female photographers on the African continent. Beyond having been commissioned by the African Arts Institute in Cape Town, to support the publication of “Voices, African Artists living and working in Cape Town” in 2010, she obtained first place in the Photo Africa contest for her photograph “Self-portrait” in 2011. Additionally, she has recently been in residence in Aarhus, Denmark, Bahia, Brazil, Kampala, Uganda and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

It is crucial to understand that in each of Cherono’s photographs, there are explorations of intense processes that are all leading to carefully calculated directions. Unlike in other exhibitions where a curator determines where a particular art piece is displayed, the Peregrinate exhibition was different in the sense that the photographers also designed the installation of their work. Cherono for instance instructed that a given order was to be followed during hanging of her work. These specifications not only help one understand the photographer’s visual language better, but also in detail reveals the intimacy and intricacy with which the photographer creates the journey of each work.

Mimi Cherono Ng'ok, Untitled, from the series Not one but you (Dakar), 2014

Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, Untitled, from the series Not one but you (Dakar), 2014.


In the mosquito net photograph as shown in the exhibition catalogue, we see the complexity and skill revealed. Although little is captured in the frame, one can easily note the environment in which this image was taken. Whereas this photograph’s message is not new, it fosters a fresh look at matters regarding health and also sheds a new light on our perceptions to this matter. Hence we are challenged to question why and through this a silent dialogue is started between the beholder and the contents of the photograph.


Musa Nxumalo

Musa N. Nxumalo lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this exhibition, Nxumalo’s theme concentrates on the youth in a neighborhood. Nxumalo‘s skill has over time, been molded in his completion of the Foundation and Intermediate Courses at Market Photo Workshop between 2006 and 2008 and participation in several workshops and master classes. Nxumalo has had three solo exhibitions and a range of group exhibitions both locally and internationally. He has won several awards such as, second prize for both the Edward Ruiz Mentorship in 2008, the MTN CIT: Y Festival 2009, first prize in Visual Art for the Impact Awards 2010.

Musa Nxumalo’s photographs represent the mobility and dynamism of humanity in broader societal environments in Africa. His photographs stand out more for their human expressions compared to Cherono’s and Sekgala’s. Through his photographs, discussions and responses to human issues are ignited. The black and white collection of Nxumalo’s Neighborhood series is in itself a profound definition of society at large. As such Nxumalo’s complexity in ably incorporating social realities with issues happening in society is highly credible.

Peregrinate installation shot. Photo by Lara Buchmann

Peregrinate installation shot. Photo by Lara Buchmann.

Prior to Nxumalo’s neighborhood series, I am persuaded to recollect a popular local song entitled Mulirwana (neighbor) by King Saha. In Mulirwana, King Saha sings about his infatuation about the girl next door. He goes ahead to lament about the rejection he suffers from the charming neighbor who, intentionally schemes to hurt his feelings. The distance between which these two people live creates a situation that inevitably makes them share their space. The video features a set of rooms in which people live as neighbors, something, which connects to Nxumalo’s photographs.

From one couple kissing to people posing on streets, Nxumalo’s photographs feature in them important and lasting influences on human kind. By viewing most of these photographs, one is persuaded to contemplate about different situations in life, understand as well as experience their realities on a more personal level.

Musa N. Nxumalo, Neighborhood, from series In/Glorious (neighbourhood), 2010-2012

Musa N. Nxumalo, Neighborhood, from the series In/Glorious (Neighbourhood), 2010-2012.

By traversing different structures of time and space, all the three photographers subconsciously and consciously, create distinct artistic positions in which they find themselves. Hence, the subjects, which inspire these photographs, should not be ignored.

From Kampala the exhibition will travel to its next destination, Bamako, where it will be part of the Rencontres de Bamako/ African Photography Biennale.

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