Saturday, October 24, 2020

The gospel according to Leutlwetse: a surreal

Locally, photography, as an artistic expression, is uncharted but Leutlwetse Bogosibokae has mounted images at the Octagon Gallery that will challenge what most Batswana expect of photography.

At the re-launch of the ongoing photography exhibition at the National Museum, Leutlwetse, a Photography graduate from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa, said he read many religious texts for research. After reading the Bible, Quran, and researching further on religious sects such as Buddhism and Rastafarianism, he found that what all religions have in common is that they are not entirely based on fact but on faith.

In that context, he presents a series of dark toned photographs spun from revered religious imagery and texts. Amongst them is a photograph of a burning shrub, which recalls the book of Exodus where God revealed himself to Moses. There is also an image of a pair of eyes (the all seeing eyes of God, I presume) and in the foreground a lone silhouette points heavenwards. Leutlwetse also plays around with the idea of levitation, with a model in a meditation pose, similar to Buddha, and suspended midair.

This particular picture would perhaps be the perfect example of the series of photographs exhibited because the picture is manipulated to depict the model suspended; he also is hanging from the gallows, with a noose around his neck.

This is a clever interplay of being suspended in the air, but also evokes thoughts of religious warfare, because Buddhist monks have for years dedicated themselves to meditating themselves to levitate and, on the other hand, many believers of certain religions meditate themselves to die for their beliefs.

The shock factor has to be Leutlwetse’s nudity, considering that the context of the pictures is based on religious texts, which are sacred to their believers. The pictures seem not to be designed for erotic appeal, but as provocation of the collective religions’ displeasure at states of undress. As one picture of a nude female holding a mirror out for the viewer, and the reflection being a figure shrinking away and hiding her nakedness.

This type of photography, Leutlwetse tells us, is surreal photography. There are, in fact, many disciplines within photography such as epic photography that glorifies subjects, who/which are otherwise contradictory or mundane. Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara’s world famous portrait was created in such a way; it was etched out of a picture taken at a funeral.

Surrealism, however, is the movement that turned the world of photography on its head. While a photo was regarded as an image of truth, surrealist photographers manipulated photographic processes to produce hallucinatory and fantastical images.

This exhibition is appropriate as an introduction to the possibilities of photographic art. Leutlwetse is brave to exhibit such work in a community that rarely challenges religious beliefs publicly, and I would recommend everyone to see it, if only to at least create dialogue about Botswana’s art and religion.

The photography exhibition has been extended to run until July 22.

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