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40 Under 40 Africa

Mikhael Subotzky

28 September 2020


‘At the heart of my work,’ says Mikhael Subotzky, ‘is a fixation with revealing the gap between what is presented (and idealised) and what is hidden.’ In photographs, films, installations and, more recently, collages and paintings, the Johannesburg-based artist explores and exposes the politics of representation. In early series such as Die Vier Hoeke (The Four Corners) and Beaufort West, Subotzky took a photojournalist’s eye first to the South African penal system, and then to how forms of institutional power affect everyday life in South Africa. This approach culminated in Ponte City, a six-year collaboration with Patrick Waterhouse exploring every inch of Africa’s tallest residential skyscraper and uncovering the lives of its residents. The project was exhibited internationally, and the resulting publication published by Steidl in 2014 won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize the following year. The project, comprising some 2,000 photographs as well as texts and found documents, has recently been acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where it will be exhibited in 2021.

In recent years Subotzky has begun to investigate how images are physically made and seen. He began showing his ‘sticky-tape transfers’ in 2014, removing ink from historic photographs with tape before reassembling these into collages; a similar process using digital video, named the Pixel Interface, was displayed in ‘All The World’s Futures’ at the 56th Venice Biennale. Last year, Subotzky exhibited Massive Nerve Corpus – a series of ‘synthetic paintings’ that continues his efforts to pull images apart and reconstitute them in what he has described as ‘more honest’ ways.

Calhoun II, from the series Four Quartets (2019), Mikhael Subotzky

Calhoun II, from the series Four Quartets (2019), Mikhael Subotzky. Courtesy Goodman Gallery

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