artthrob artthrob

Archive: Issue No. 36, August 2000

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.

ISSUE NO. 36 AUG 2000
Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan

photo by Laurent Emmanuel

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Lost and Found 2000
Installation view
Digital prints onto silk organza

View a Quicktime walkthrough of the show [1.4MB]

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Beyond Racism conference 2000
Installation view
Digital prints onto canvas
Cape Sun Hotel

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Detail from Family Affairs 1999
Digital print onto matt photographic paper

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Detail from Family Affairs 1999
Digital print onto matt photographic paper

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Detail from Family Affairs 1999
Digital print onto matt photographic paper

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
I'm the king of the castle ... 1997
photographic installation, Purity and Danger exhibition, Johannesburg

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Maternal Exposures 1999
Transparent digital photographs laminated onto acrylic, backlit
Permanent installation at Mowbray Maternity Hospital, Cape Town

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Home Truths 1997
Drawings in pastel and gluesize on paper
Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Woman in red underwear 1991
96.5 X 60.5cm

A feature on an artist in the public eye.

by Sue Williamson

Modus operandi:

Starting her artistic career in the early 90s as a printmaker, Terry Kurgan made rich lithographic portraits with up to eighteen hand drawn plates to give subtle layers of colour. In recent years, moving from using her photographs simply as source material for lithographs, Kurgan began working directly with the photographic images themselves. Coming into motherhood, the artist turned her camera on the subject matter closest to her - her family - and up to now, intimate portraits of her children, sometimes joyfully mugging for the camera, sometimes sulkily irritated at having to keep still, have been Kurgan's best known work. The series constitutes an engaged, sustained and unparalleled portrait of a certain stage of childhood which in its no-holds-barred freedom and intimacy, one cannot imagine having been taken by anyone but a parent. The fact that the children were often naked made the series somewhat controversial, and Kurgan was accused in some quarters of transgressing the privacy of her own children, a criticism which the artist weathered calmly, denying that her children had been made to feel in any way uncomfortable. In part of a subsequent series, Family Affairs, Kurgan's children turned the camera on her.
Kurgan has also acted as curator, most notably for 'Bringing Up Baby: Artists Survey the Reproductive Body', which premiered at the National Arts Festival in 1998, and has accepted commissions for large scale text and photo installations in public spaces. In her most recent artwork, which won the FNB Vita Award 2000, (see review) Kurgan's images have been printed on floor to ceiling panels of translucent silk organza for an installation entitled 'Lost and Found'. They are all found family photographs - snapshots - from the late 50's and early 60's. From the era when the camera entered the home as an ordinary everyday domestic object.

Artist's statement:

"There are several threads that run through my work in a fairly consistent way. One of those is an exploration of photographic meaning. Another is the intersection between identity politics and photographic representation, and then too, there is always present some degree of tension between private experience and the public domain. I seem to return again and again to a place where private experience shades into public performance and vice versa. I do this I think, firstly to conflate and confuse the distinctions between them. But mostly, to make of the public domain a more human environment.

"Not that I imagine art has the power to change the world, least of all mine - but it's a way of beginning to examine and reflect upon internal life processes and how those impact upon all the things we do out in the world.

I often use family photographs. Found photographs, photographs I take of my own children, and then more recently they've photographed me. I'm sometimes asked whether it doesn't make me or them uncomfortable to have our private lives exposed. And this might sound strange, but I never feel as though I am revealing my own inner family life. I think that's what people might think I do, but I don't. My own family are never really the subject of the work - they're the objects of the work - what I have to hand or what or whom I use to tease out other stuff, like representations of women and children, like photographic meaning, gender issues, identity, the politics of representation and more. Even when it comes to the work in which I use my own kids - some of them are fictions and many of them are performed. I think they perform childhood or together with me collaborate in making images that tell some sort of story, but not necessarily one that narrates anything to do with them or me.

"Memory is probably the most important tool and source of inspiration, and what I was trying to come closer to expressing in the new work, entitled Lost and Found that I made for the Vita show.

"The photographs I chose mostly belong to my own family or extended family (of origin) but I think they could be anybody's and are emblematic of some of the grand themes, like love, loss, longing, life, death, anger, joy, hurt, desire and more.

"I wanted the translucent silk on which the photographs are printed, and which appear and disappear (at the mercy of Johannesburg light), to mirror and appear to echo memory itself: a screen or scrim through which people and events are recollected and forgotten. "To me, photographs, particularly family ones, represent the impossibility of the desire to hold, or contain some concrete reminder of present experience. Photographs are tied so precisely to a particular moment that they are always simultaneously a record of something or someone no longer there."


In July, Kurgan was named winner of the FNB Vita 2000 Award, comparable in prestige in this country to winning Britain's Turner prize. Her installation Lost and Found, (see review) won out against presentations from the other finalists, Bernie Searle, Hentie van der Merwe and Claudette Schreuders.

Before that

In May, in consultation with the architect Nina Cohen, Kurgan designed an installation for the International conference "Beyond Racism", held at The Cape Sun Hotel in Cape Town. A corridor which led delegates to the conference room was lined with large format digital printing of photographs of people from all over the country taken from a series which had appeared in the press, combined with quotes on how they felt about South Africa now. Lights and sound were also part of the installation, which is currently installed in Cape Town's Civic Centre.

And before that

Last year, in another body of work in which Kurgan used her family as source material, the artist showed 'Family Affairs' at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet in Cape Town. Studying old photographs of her grandmother with her mother as a baby, and her mother with herself, Kurgan exchanged correspondence with her mother who lives in the States about aspects of familial relationships, letters, which Kurgan has published as part of a portfolio.

Dear Mom,

I'm working on a new show and wanted to ask you something. I've recently been looking at some of my childhood photographs and thinking about family photographs and their meanings. How powerful they are in their ability to 'make' memory and construct family relationships. And then too how ambiguous and deceptive these pictures can be...

Part of this show were photographs entitled 'Shooting Back' - in which Kurgan's children turned the camera on her, and phtographed her in the nude.

Next up:

In September, Kurgan will exhibit Family Affairs on an exhibition entitled 'Can you write me a letter?', curated by Gloria Bosch at the MuSeu d'Art, Girona, Spain.

And after that:

Family Affairs will be shown at the Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in October.

Curriculum vitae:

Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1958. Moved to the USA for 10 years in 1978 and returned to South Africa in 1988.

Completed undergraduate studies in the USA, (California College of Arts and Crafts ,1982) and postgraduate Fine Art studies at the University of Cape Town in 1992.

Currently living and working in Cape Town

Solo Exhibitions
2000: "Family Affairs". Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand. (upcoming, October 10th).
1999: "Family Affairs". Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, Cape Town.

"Maternal Exposures". A series of permanent installations designed for Groote Schuur & Mowbray Maternity Hospitals, Cape Town.

1997: "Home Truths". Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

"Home Truths". Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet, Cape Town.

1995: "Picture of a Man?" Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town.
1994: "Bodyparts". Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.
1992: "Portraits". Irma Stern Museum,Cape Town.
Selected Group Exhibitions
2000: "Can you write me a letter?", curated by Gloria Bosch, MuSeu d'Art, Girona, Spain, (upcoming September).

FNB Vita Awards exhibition. Sandton Civic Gallery, Johannesburg

"Emotions and Relations", curated by Hentie Van Der Merwe, Sandton Civic Gallery, Johannesburg, and Klein Karoo Festival, Oudtshoorn.

"Self", curated by Clive Van Den Berg, Klein Karoo Festival, Oudtshoorn.

1999: "Unplugged IV", Rembrandt van Rijn Art Gallery, Johannesburg

"Emergence", curated by Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin Smith, Standard Bank National Arts Festival- Grahamstown, Durban Art Gallery, Standard Bank Gallery, Jhb

1998: "Bliss", Contemporary South African Photographers, Area Gallery, Cape Town.

"Bringing Up Baby: Artists survey the Reproductive Body", Standard Bank National Arts Festival-Grahamstown, Castle Good Hope-Cape Town, and Standard Bank Gallery-Johannesburg.

"Unplugged III", Rembrandt van Rijn Art Gallery, Johannesburg

"eyeAfrica: African Photography 1840 - 1998", curated by Pierre-Laurent Sanner and Revue Noire Publications, South African National Gallery & Castle Good Hope, Cape Town.

1997: "Lifetimes: An exhibition of South African Art", curated by Ruth Sack and Nina Jacobson, Out of Africa Festival, Munich, Germany

"Purity and Danger", curated by Penny Siopis, Gertrude Posel Gallery, Johannesburg.

1996: "Don't mess with Mister Inbetween: 15 Artistas da Africa do Sul", curated by Ruth Rosengarten, Culturgest,Lisbon, Portugal.
1994: "Displacements: South African Works on Paper 1984-1994, curated by Jane Taylor and David Bunn, Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Chicago.
1993: "Volkskas Atelier". Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Public Collections
  • Johannesburg Art Gallery
  • Durban Art Gallery
  • MTN Corporate Collection
  • Sasol Corporate Collection
  • Katrine Harries Print Cabinet - University of Cape Town
  • Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town
  • Centre for African Studies - University of Cape Town.
  • Industrial Development Corporation, Johannesburg
  • Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University, Chicago
Public Commisions:
2000: Design of installation for "Beyond Racism" International Conference in Cape Town.
1999: Photography and Installation, Telkom's "Disability with Dignity" Campaign.

Design and installation of a series of permanent site specific installations for Groote Schuur and Mowbray Maternity Hospitals in Cape Town.

1998: Curator of exhibition and editor of catalogue "Bringing Up Baby: Artists Survey the Reproductive Body ".