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Rise of photographic collage an approach to digital and analogue archives

Lakin Ogunbanwo, Chillin’ in my Cerebellum, 2023, courtesy WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery

The contemporary condition is such that there are no longer any art movements – even if there are discernible aesthetic or conceptual qualities characterising the art finding favour. This is largely due to transitions moving in short cycles and existing in parallel to other discernible trends, and certainly they are not bound by elaborate manifestos as per Europe's avant-garde culture. This leaves art historians or commentators insufficient time to name or claim them. 

Yet currently, it is possible to draw a fairly straight line between several artists' practices which evidence a playful if not surrealist manipulation of archival imagery or photographs. The artists that come to mind are Teresa Kutala Firmino, Phumulani Ntuli, Thato Toeba, Neo Matlogo, Lunga Ntila and newcomer Kaelo Molefe. Even established documentary-style photographers such as the Nigerian Lakin Ogunbanwo have taken to manipulating photos, arriving at sometimes abstract compositions.  

This is not a new way of working, collaging with found imagery dates back to European Dadaists such as Hannah Höch. In the African art context, Sam Nthlengethwa (who was inspired by the African American artist, Romare Bearden) has been incorporating found images in his paintings since at least the 80s and Wangechi Mutu, the Kenyan-born artist has in the last decade enjoyed much success in the US exploiting the collaging mode to evoke hybrid beings with a foot in the past, future or the natural world. 

Yet, here we find a group of young, emerging and established African artists employing collage in paintings or paperworks centred on collaged photographs, mostly to arrive at strange-looking subjects with fragmented bodies or faces. What might be compelling another generation to regurgitate, reinvent, consume and alter existing images?

It could be a way to renew the possibilities in painting and photography. Given some of the above-mentioned artists combine and blur the lines between these mediums, they might be interested in the tension between truth and fiction. Documentary photography has been impacted by technology. Everyone has a camera on their phones. - first published on Latitudes Online.



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