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Cloud of controversy hangs over African art exhibition in Paris

2017-05-07 11:00
Art/Afrique: Fondation Louis Vuitton
Art/Afrique: Fondation Louis Vuitton (PHOTO: DIGITAL NEWS AGENCY)

Cape Town - A major exhibition of African art in Paris, Art/Afrique at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, reframes SA’s social activism.

It has also led to a nasty spat between a photographer and two artists. Garreth van Niekerk reports.

Photographers exhibit and sell images of people under their own names, but those being depicted in the images often demand that their contributions as subjects be afforded the same status as that of the person behind the camera.

The latest in a string of cases to play out on a public platform is the matter of photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman vs FAKA. Eyebrows were raised again last week as things got heated on Twitter when Buyani Duma, aka Desire Marea, one half of performance art duo FAKA, accused Moolman of stealing FAKA’s images to further her own career by not crediting FAKA’s creative team appropriately at the Art/Afrique show.

The South African part of the exhibition in question is called Being There, and documents a range of the country’s biggest names such as William Kentridge, David Goldblatt and David Koloane. It hopes, the foundation says, to look at social activists who “take advantage of their country’s new position in the art world to affirm their South African identity as they define it”.

Duma has spoken publicly against Moolman in the past, when a similar issue about their working relationship went viral on Facebook. In an interview with Mail & Guardian last year, Duma said: “This is somebody we had been collaborating with for over six months, creating iconic visuals together under the guise that we were equal collaborators. Throughout this time her exploitative behaviour surfaced more and more, revealing her otherwise subliminal colonial understanding of photography and documentation as a whole.”

Duma’s latest tweets have been removed after they again went viral. He tweeted: “I have decided to take tweets down [and] to find a more graceful and impactful way to address this. Thanks for your support.”

But this did little to quell FAKA’s followers who continued posting responses addressed to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, with one of Duma’s retweets stating that “Kristin-Lee Moolman has been exploiting the image and bodies of iFAKA. White ppl’s gaze is problematic umasifika la (sic)”.

We briefly spoke to the artist – a #Trending favourite – this week. “We are in the process of putting together a statement, as a team, that will address what we think about what Kristin is doing,” Duma said over the phone, adding that his partners – FAKA’s Thato Ramaisa (Fella Gucci), stylist Gabrielle Kannemeyer and designer Rich Mnisi – will all be coming forward about Moolman as well.

Moolman, whose star is rising ever higher (just last week, she shot the campaign for cult fashion label Hood By Air) told #Trending this week, after staying silent until now, that the attacks against her are unfair. “I do feel extremely victimised. We all used those pictures for promotional images, like Desire did for his own SoundCloud page, as has Gabrielle for her portfolio, and as Rich did for his own advertising campaign. I’ve always credited every single person included in the images, at every single exhibition or interview, and I’ve even tried to make sure links are always provided to their social media pages ... all three are people I really, really cared about, extremely close friends of mine, so even though, legally, there is a case, it’s not something I’m prepared to even say anything about right now.”

Similar problems have recently affected world-famous queer activist and photographer Zanele Muholi – also a big feature of the Art/Afrique show – when she raised the ire of some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community she photographs to demand social change.

“Unfortunately, many of the people who are complaining don’t have any legal recourse,” lawyer Zanele Mbuyisa told #Trending this week. “They consented to the photo [being taken], and even if their agreement was a verbal one, they knew that the pictures would be used. You can’t make a claim when the work is successful. The people in the pictures have [also] benefited from her product and her intellectual property.”

The legal element of collaborations, particularly creative ones, is rarely agreed on upfront, but it can be avoided and should be taught to those undertaking such projects.

“First of all, you need a standard contract to make things clear that you are doing it for free. But if there is a promise of work being sold, you need to decide the split [of earnings]. In this case, Moolman took the photographs, and they are hers. But if you have a contract, then these accusations can’t happen, and people won’t be unhappy.”

Mbuyisa has recently started a free legal clinic, where legal services will be available to those who don’t have the means. “Start-ups often can’t afford to get their businesses going because there are so many legal entanglements.”

Mbuyisa’s project is called the Haki Legal Clinic, in Milpark, and is open between 8:00 and 13:00 weekdays. For info, call 011 049 9617

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