02.02.2017  •  Art NEWS

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Pieter Hugo commemorates with his kids project '1994' the past unrests in Rwanda and once again depicts African society – an exhibition at Yossi Milo Gallery & as a book at Prestel

Most of South African photographer Pieter Hugo's works document structures of power between human beings and animals, industrial countries and the third world. The Yossi Milo Gallery in New York now presents with '1994' the new series by the photographer, which was also released as a book (Prestel). At first look, less sensational than his hyena fighters, cleaner than ''Permanent Errors' and the waste management problems in Ghana, more realistic than 'Nollywood', Nigerias film industry, but not less political than 'Kin' on the failed colonial politics of South Africa.

'1994' commemorates an important year in the history of Rwanda and South Africa. While during the first democratic elections in South Africa Nelson Mandela was elected President, taking place that same year was the devastating genocide between the ethnic groups, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. Hugo processed these events in retrospect with porträts of children and youths from the two countries. What's special about them: They were all born after 1994 and are thus less shaped and burdened by the political upheavals than older generations. The result according to Prestel Verlag 'is an authentic depiction of African society with which Hugo provides yet another demonstration of his keen nose for history and people'.

Pieter Hugo on '1994': "I happened to start the work in Rwanda, but I’ve been thinking about the year 1994 in relation to both countries over a period of 10 or 20 years. I noticed how the kids, particularly in South Africa, don’t carry the same historical baggage as their parents. I find their engagement with the world to be very refreshing in that they are not burdened by the past, but at the same time you witness them growing up with these liberation narratives that are in some ways fabrications. It’s like you know something they don’t know about the potential failure or shortcomings of these narratives…

Most of the images were taken in villages around Rwanda and South Africa. There’s a thin line between nature being seen as idyllic and as a place where terrible things happen – permeated by genocide, a constantly contested space. Seen as a metaphor, it’s as if the further you leave the city and its systems of control, the more primal things become. At times the children appear conservative, existing in an orderly world; at other times there’s something feral about them, as in Lord of the Flies, a place devoid of rules. This is most noticeable in the Rwanda images where clothes donated from Europe, with particular cultural significations, are transposed into a completely different context.

Being a parent myself has shifted my way of looking at kids dramatically, so there is the challenge of photographing children unsentimentally. The act of photographing a child is so different – and in many ways more difficult – to making a portrait of an adult. The normal power dynamics between photographer and subject are subtly shifted. I searched for children who seemed already to have fully formed personalities. There is an honesty and a forthrightness which cannot otherwise be evoked."

Solo exhibition are on display across Europe: Pieter Hugo from 17 February thru 21 May, 2017, in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam as well as 19 February thru 23 July, 2017, in Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.

Pieter Hugo, 1994, January 26–March 11, 2017
Yossi Milo Gallery New York

Established in 2000, Yossi Milo Gallery is a contemporary art gallery focused on the representation of artists specializing in photo-based art, video and works on paper. In January 2012, Yossi Milo Gallery moved to its new, ground-floor space located at 245 Tenth Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets in New York’s Chelsea district.