Artists: Hasan and Husain Essop
Venue: Standard Bank Gallery
Dates: 21 April to 20 June 2015
Over the course of a decade, twin brothers Hasan and Husain Essop have grown from art school graduates to internationally recognised and multiple award-winning artists. Their accolades include the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art (2014), residencies in Hanover and Amsterdam, and invitations to biennales in Havana and Dakar.
During this period the scope of their work has shifted from the local – specifically Cape Town, where the Essops were born and raised – to the global. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that their interests have always been in the intersection of the local and the global: their work engages with the local inflections of global conflicts.
These conflicts are often described in popular discourse and news reportage as “religious” or “cultural” (antagonism between the East and the West, between Islam and Christianity, between Sunni and Shia). But what emerges in the photographic images created by the Essops is a much more complicated story, or set of stories: stories of migration and diaspora, of cultural and economic exchange, of geographical and historical particularity, of individual and collective identity politics.
In the body of work collected in Unrest, their lenses are turned once again on Cape Town. The heritage of the Bo-Kaap and the legacy represented by the Cape’s kramats are set against the blight of poverty, gangsterism and drugs on the Cape Flats. The memory of forced displacement in District Six is counterpointed with the unfulfilled promise of freedom manifested in informal settlements like Mandela Park. The danger of cliché and stereotype is addressed by turns with pathos (in depictions of xenophobic violence and looting) and with humour (in the unlikely conjunction of the Sea Point promenade with jihadist training).
Unrest opened at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown last year and has since travelled to Port Elizabeth, Durban, Cape Town and Bloemfontein. This is the first opportunity for Johannesburg audiences to engage with the exhibition.
Visitors to the Standard Bank Gallery who are familiar with the work of the Essop brothers will recognise their signature style and method. Making use of a rotating tripod and digital “stitching” technology, the Essops construct panoramic scenes populated by figures that are uncannily similar – they are the only subjects in their photographs, a technique developed out of respect for the injunction against the idolatrous portrayal of human beings contained in the hadith (traditional Muslim teachings).
The result is a set of images that are both earnest and playful, capturing complex narratives in the freeze-frame moment of a composite photograph.