Tiwani Contemporary presents Drowning World an exhibition by South African photographer Gideon Mendel, curated by Christine Eyene. The selection includes 15 images taken in Nigeria that have never been exhibited, and 5 photographs documenting flooding in various parts of the globe including England, India, Haiti and Australia. The exhibition also presents a two-‐part video of people living amidst floodwaters in Bangkok, as well as video portraits of Nigerian inhabitants returning to their flooded homes.
Drowning World is a poignant depiction of climate change through portraits of flood survivors taken in deep floodwaters, within the remains of their homes, or in submerged landscapes, in the stillness of once lively environments. Keeping their composure, the subjects pause in front of Mendel’s camera, casting an unsettling, yet engaging gaze. These images, taken across the globe demonstrate a shared experience that erases geographical and cultural divides. They invite the viewer to reflect on the impact on nature by humankind, and attachment to our homes and personal belongings.
Beyond the documentary aspect of this project, Gideon Mendel subtly treads on the aesthetics of portraiture, yet pushes the boundaries by staging the photographs in unlikely environments. Each portrait isolates individuals, couples or small groups that would otherwise be represented by statistics. The portraits also reveal personality and status through clothes, style and even elegance.
As well as representing destruction, water also contributes to the creative process. Washed out pigments create new painterly patterns, damaged films produce soft tones and mysterious haze, while architecture and landscape are reflected in the sparkling natural mirror.
The selection compiled for this exhibition highlights the confusion of senses between the sight of landscapes of desolation and the attractiveness of colours and compositions. It seeks to examine the tension between drama and picturesque, and the fine line between documentary and artistic imagery.
Gideon Mendel was born in Johannesburg in 1959 and studied psychology and African history at the University of Cape Town. Following his studies he became a freelance photographer, documenting change and conflict in South Africa in the lead-‐up to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. In 1990 he moved to London. He first began The outskirts of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Nigeria November 2012 documenting the topic of AIDS in Africa in 1993, and in the past twenty years, his work on this issue has been widely recognized. He has won six World Press Photo Awards, first prize in the American Pictures of the Year competition, a POY Canon Photo Essayist Award, the Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography and the Amnesty International Media Award for Photojournalism. Exhibitions include: Rise and Fall of Apartheid, curated by Okwui Enwezor at the International Center of Photography, New York (Sept. 2012 -‐ Jan. 2013); Haus der Kunst, Munich (Feb-‐May 2013), and touring. Part of his Drowning World series was shown at Somerset House, London (May -‐ June 2012), and will also be included in A Different Kind of Order, The ICP Triennial, New York (17 May – 8 September 2013).
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