This exhibition brings together three bodies of work, which offer an almost surreal and beguiling representation of contemporary Africa – and more specifically the artist’s homeland, a country characterized by the dualism of the apartheid era.
Hugo’s portraiture, which is both empathetic and dispassionate, parades a fresh iconography that allows for a more fluid interpretation of a continent struggling to come to terms with a post-colonial dispensation, multiple identities and an increasingly visible presence in global terms.
Looking Aside (2002-2005), an exploration of the condition of Albinism, foregrounds individuals whose appearance is in some way unusual or unfamiliar. Albinism is an inherited condition usually characterized by a lack of melanin pigment in the eyes, skin and hair. Hugo’s closely-framed, uncompromising portraits explore our responses to physical difference and the meanings we attach to the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’.
Hugo’s series, Judges (2005) was made during the final months of the longest running court case in Botswana’s history. A group of Bushmen had accused the government of illegally evicting them in order to exploit the diamond and mineral potential of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In a landmark ruling, the three member High Court ruled that the Bushmen were entitled to live and hunt on their ancestral lands. These studies, alluding to the imperatives of authoritarian portraiture, turn lazy assumptions about racial stereotypes upside down.
Gadawan Kura - The Hyena Men (2007) is a study of an extended family of minstrels and healers from Abuja, Nigeria. The troupe stages performances in dusty streets with their hyenas, snakes and monkeys; they also sell fetishes and herbal medicines. Hugo writes that he was fascinated by “the hybridisation of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers have with their animals - sometimes doting and affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel.” These studies, imbued with a pastel palette and muted colour range, theatrically play with visual assumptions about the African ‘township’ and hinterland and point to an understanding of ‘otherness’ which is less proscriptive but equally exotic.
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