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Saturday, October 27, 2012


(Photographic work by Andrew Tshabangu)

A travelling exhibition of black-and-white photographs entitled Bridges, opens at the Durban Art Gallery as part of the France / South Africa Season on November 4, celebrating a 15 year-old collaboration between documentary photographers South African Andrew Tshabangu and René-Paul Savignan from Reunion Island.

The focal point of the work is spiritual and religious practice and to this aim, the artists have spent time researching and documenting in both countries. The presence of a rich diversity of religious practices is common to both locations. On Reunion Island, due to a long history of inhabitation by people of diverse ethnicities, a complex range of religious beliefs is found. The focus in South Africa has been the many ways in which Christianity is interpreted and experienced by Africans.

Savignan, who was born in Le Port in 1970, began his career working in a ‘fast lab’. After two years of workshop studies, he started his own laboratory and his works are regularly exhibited on Reunion Island and internationally. Tshabangu was born in Soweto, in 1966, and currently teaches photography at the Alexander Community Art Centre and is represented by Johannesburg gallery OMO.

The photographers agreed to a unique and interesting approach. They would always take photographs at the same time and place. In visiting each other’s countries, the artists were able to connect with their respective history and culture as well as revising their awareness of their own.“Reunion Island can be considered as a laboratory of the meetings of civilizations,” says Savignan, who observed that the diversity of religious beliefs connected people rather than divided them, with many islanders embracing more than one belief system without prejudice.

Tshabangu says: “The religious ceremony is a critical vehicle through which the community and the individual communes with the creator and with nature. In this body of work, I am portraying Christian practices from an African perspective and expressing the passion for a brand of faith steeped in both the Western Christian doctrine and African religions. This brew of spirituality is rooted in the heart of African communities.”

Bridges comprises 80 black and white photographs selected from thousands of images captured over the years. Together they explore and document that most fundamental of human needs: the expression of spiritual longing through communal ritual.

Well-known photographer Peter McKenzie will facilitate two workshops/seminars with Andrew Tshabangu and René-Paul Savignan; one at the KZNA Centre for Photography on November 2; the other at Durban Art Galley on November 5. Both workshops will run from 12h00 to 14h00. The workshop at DAG will include religious leaders and some young urban sangomas. Workshops are free and open to the public. For more information contact Jenny Stretton on 031 332 7286 or email

Bridges runs at the Durban Art Gallery from November 4 to January 18, 2013. The DAG is situated on the second floor of the Durban City Hall, entrance in Anton Lembede (formerly Smith) Street opposite the Playhouse. More information on 031 311 2262/6.