Lebohang Kganye

Visual artist and photographer


Lebohang Kganye uses her family archive to explore and re-enact notions of home and belonging. Kganye was born in 1990 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she currently lives and works. Although primarily a photographer, her interest in the materiality of photography is ongoing and explored in myriad ways, through her use of the sculptural, performative and the moving image. Kganye’s work has explored themes of personal history and ancestry whilst resonating with the history of South Africa and apartheid, by incorporating the archival and performative into a practice that centres storytelling and memory as it plays itself out in the familial experience. While her work may resonate with a particularly South African experience, it critically engages with oral tradition as form and memory, as a tangible source material. Using three-dimensional, photographic collage, she employs narrative to tell stories of home, refuge and family members. She has never met some of these ancestors, yet gains familiarity with them through the retelling of their stories. “My work explores themes of personal history and ancestry whilst resonating with the history of South Africa and apartheid. Ke Lefa Laka: Heir-story (2013) documents my personal history and straddles generations of my mother’s family, resonating with the history of South African displacement, in that my family was uprooted and resettled because of apartheid laws and the amendment of land acts. The narrative, as chronicled by my grandmother, of my family moving and creating temporary homes in different locations during the apartheid era as a result of dislocation and land dispossession of black South Africans, had a direct impact on the identity of my family and on the family name. Our family name shifted, in attempts to identify with the different social and physical spaces where my family lived, or because of negligence in the recording of names by the civil registrar at the South African Department of Home Affairs. Fragments of the name are embodied in the multiple versions of the name, starting with how it is said, how it is pronounced and finally how it is spelled – Khanye, Khanyi, Kganye and Khanyile. People often couldn’t record their own names (or dates of birth) and, sometimes, the official modes of documenting were recorded incorrectly on documents such as birth certificates, identity cards and passports – documents that attest to identities and histories, and thus resulting in an alteration of oral histories and names. Names as a historical, social product highlight the history of naming as a device against illiteracy and the lack of birth records in South Africa through names associated with historical events, which served as a register to estimate the ages of the name bearers. Names can also be chosen at random and evolve. Indeed, the tracing of the name ‘Khanye’ demonstrates how this surname changed over time, responding to a family’s history and migration, as they are influenced by the socio-political and economics of colonial and, then, apartheid South Africa. The work speaks to the process of migration and touches on the subject of genealogy, which transformed family structures and networks in and around Southern Africa.” “Over the last seven years, my practice has been investigating memory as material. The more I researched my family history, it becomes apparent that family history remains a space of contradictions, it is a mixture of truth and fiction. Through the anecdotal restaging of my grandfather’s life (and by default the family’s origin story), I reflect on the complexities of the stories we retell through the unreliable lens of memory. My work confronts the conflicting stories, which are told in multiple ways, even by the same person – a combination of memory and fantasy. The work does not attest to being a documentation of a people but presents their personal narratives, which hearken back to a particular time but are also vehicles to a fantasy that allows for a momentary space to ‘perform’ the ideals of a community.”

Kganye received her introduction to photography in 2009 at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, and completed the Advanced Photography Programme in 2011. She obtained a Diploma in Fine Arts from the University of Johannesburg in 2014 and is currently doing her Masters in Fine Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand. Notable awards include the Grand Prix Images Vevey 2021/22, Paulo Cunha e Silva Art Prize, 2020, Camera Austria Award, 2019 and the finalist of the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative, 2019. Kganye participated in major museum group exhibitions in 2021 – Family Affairs. Family in Current Photography at the House of Photography in Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Germany and The Power of My Hands, at Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, France. She has exhibited her work extensively within curated group exhibitions and biennales including:
  • Afterglow, Yokohama Triennale, Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, in 2020
  • Africa State of Mind, a travelling exhibition presented at the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, UK, in 2019 – 2020, the Museum of African Diaspora, San Francisco, USA, in 2019 and the Impressions Gallery, Bradford, UK, in 2018
  • The Way She Looks: A History of Female Gazes in African Portraiture at the Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada, in 2019
  • Recent Histories, a touring exhibition of Contemporary African Photography and Video Art from Arthur Walther Collection, presented at Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography, Amsterdam, in 2018–2019
  • Tell freedom, by all means necessary, at Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, Netherlands, in 2018
  • Give me Yesterday, Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy, in 2016, and
  • Telling Time, at the Bamako Encounters Biennale of African Photography, Bamako, Mali, in 2015.
In 2022, a solo exhibition of Kganye’s newly commissioned works will be presented by the Georgian House Museum in Bristol, UK. Earlier solo exhibitions include:
  • The Stories We Tell: Memory as Material, at George Bizos Gallery at the Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa in 2020
  • Ke Lefa Laka : Her-story, at approche in Le Molière, Paris, France in 2019
  • Mohlokomedi wa Tora at the Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria, South Africa in 2018
  • Ke Lefa Laka: Her-story, at Festival Africolor at Université Paris 13, in Bobigny and Villetaneuse, Paris, France both in 2016, and
  • Ke Lefa Laka at Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013.