Review: Beyond the Beach at Casa Labia

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Beyond the BeachThe sweeping, elegant spaces and blank canvas walls of Casa Labia make it a beautiful space for an exhibition. And for the current show it could hardly be more perfect. The theme is ‘Muizenberg, the Beach and Beyond’, and with the windows and balcony doors of the Casa Labia gallery flung wide open to the ocean view, the very same sights and sounds that inspired the exhibition drift in to merge with the artwork on the walls, creating a wonderfully poetic scene.

Paul Weinberg, curator and contributing photographer, has lived in Muizenberg for the past seven years during which time he walked his camera and his dog around the area in an attempt to explore and understand his surroundings. His photographs for this series come across simply as neighborhood snapshots that reflect the many faces and scenes one encounters in Muizenberg. Closer inspection, however, reveals the eye of a documentary photographer. The scene of black church worshippers on the beach in ‘Church Service, Sunrise Circle’ also contains the small figure of a lone, older white man, observing them. Is he merely an innocent onlooker? Is he inspired by the service or does he judge it? Similarly, is ‘Fishing off the Walkway, Muizenberg Beach’ a simple snapshot of a fisherman against a grafitti-sprayed wall? Or do the large, yellow letters that spell out KAK and take up most of the frame tell another story?

Photographer Jenny Altschuler first experienced Muizenberg as her family’s summer holiday destination. She fondly recalls the potent aroma of burnt sugar from the candy floss machine and the vendors who walked the beach with their iceboxes of frozen granadilla lollies and Eskimo pies, at sixpence apiece. Yet it was what she found beyond the beach that intrigued her. Her photographs reflect a community of multi-cultural people in the grips of their lives, from a former political prisoner bringing up his family to a young man on a skateboard, to new entrepreneurs and established family businesses that span generations. The eye is particularly drawn to the bright splashes of colour and the central figures in her compositions. In ‘Scene at the corner on a rainy day, Muizenberg’ it is the luminous green raincoat of a man juxtaposed with the primary colours of a bystander’s umbrella that stand out, as does the vivid pink jacket of the lone figure in ‘One Sunday morning’. Another striking image is of a young girl, dressed in dark denim, walking beside the railway tracks in a dark, shadowy landscape. Heavy, turbulent clouds reflect a sombre sea, which is bordered by steely railings and train tracks. The girl’s bright pink hat, complete with pom pom, injects a sense of colour and whimsy into an otherwise monotone, winter landscape.

Robert Hamblin’s images emerge from a project called The Colony (Under Construct). At first glance, they are a series showing the silhouette of a man in a suit, partially submerged in the sea – against which the gorgeous hues of the sunset splash around the sky and illuminate the water. Upon reading Hamblin’s artist statement, however, one learns that these images are in fact “A reaction to a contemporary crisis around masculinities and the parallel analysis of patriarchal construct.” His work is presented in a non- documentary way – which is why at first glance his images appear to be pretty portraits. The deeper meaning of these works is left to the viewer to deconstruct.

The atmospheric black and white images of photojournalist Robert Bosch are in striking contrast to the colourful, high definition ones that surround it. Simply titled ‘Wading’ Bosch elucidates that his inner and outer worlds yearn for the sea. Whilst his blurry images vibrate with visual abandon, he imposed strict technical rules on the way he worked: one lens, black and white film, shot in the first two hours after sunset. The result of these contrasting approaches are moody, ghostly images.

In the second room of the exhibition the unadorned, monotone portraits of surfers are a striking contrast to the rosy blush of the ornately patterned wallpaper.

Sandy Worm’s portraits focus on an emerging voice in surf culture: black surfers. Under the title ‘Black people don’t surf’ Worm explores the growth of the black surf community of South Africa since the end of Apartheid when beaches were segregated. Her images show world and national champions next to recreational surfers; older, established surfers who surfed at forbidden beaches in their youth next to up-and-coming talents who benefit from post-apartheid freedom and opportunities.

Sean Wilson’s ‘Bayou Falso’ completes the photographic work on show, and is part of a greater exhibition that explores the literal and metaphorical landscapes of False Bay. The work is more unsettling and mysterious than the other images in the exhibition, particularly ‘Near Blue Downs’, which depicts a pair of pink panties, caught in a patch of brambles. In ‘Fish Hoek’, a fully clothed man appears to stare at an older woman in a bathing suit, the two figures framed alone on the beach. Ominous or simply capturing a small slice of life? The tension one feels whilst viewing some of the images is confirmed by the artist’s sentiments that he has sought out images which reflect a more layered and complex impression of place and experience.

The final work is an installation by Glen Thompson – a surfer and historian researching gender and politics in the history of South African surfing culture. His installation includes pages from surfing magazines no longer in print; extracts which reflect the turning points in the history of local surfing and track the development of the diverse surfing identities we see nowadays. The installation includes clips from the documentary film Berg Boys.

A part of both the Cape Town Month of Photography and the Muizenberg Festival as well as the Cape Town World Design Capital programme, the work on the walls of the Casa Labia is eclectic and absorbing, perfectly serving to underline Muizenberg as a wonderfully multi-layered and complex community: a part of Cape Town which deserves to be celebrated.

Sam Reynolds

Samantha Reynolds is a freelance writer and photographer focusing on art and travel. More of her work can be found at goldendreams.me.

Beyond the Beach runs at the Casa Labia in Muizenberg from 21 September to 19 October 2014. The Casa Labia will host a panel discussion in collaboration with Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA), which aims to pose questions and engage with past and current narratives paralleling those brought out in the bodies of work on show.
Sunday 12 October: Walkabout and Panel Discussion 10am to 12.30pm

 

 

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