A Feminine Lexicon: Lebohang Kganye In Her Own Words


The new digital project “A Feminine Lexicon” by Arts Curating students Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli opened in May at museo.ferragamo.com.
Their project took inspiration from Museo Salvatore Ferragamo’s “Women in Balance”, an exhibition curated by Stefania Ricci and Elvira Valleri that celebrates the history of Italian women during the economic boom and the rapid changes in their identities. “A Feminine Lexicon” continues this conversation into what is considered feminine today through the works of eleven international contemporary artists and their testimonies.
In the digital exhibition, through audio recordings, all the artists describe their works and how they relate to a larger feminine lexicon in their own words. An excerpt of these reflections is gathered here for I’M Firenze Digest readers as a way to help them dive deeper into the exhibition. 


By Pia Diamandis & Elena Tortelli. Cover image: Lebohang Kganye, Pied Piper’s Voyage, 2014, animated film, music by Auntie Flo and Elsa Williams, 3′ 26″. © Lebohang Kganye. Courtesy the artist

“A Feminine Lexicon” artists include Johannesburg-based visual artist and photographer Lebohang Kganye (b. 1990, Johannesburg, South Africa). Her work uses photography to retell personal and family memories.
In “A Feminine Lexicon”, Lebohang Kganye showcases Pied Piper’s Voyage (2014), a video where the artist re-enacts the story of her mother’s family. Like many other families in South Africa during apartheid, they moved from a rural area to the city in search of work.

Dressed in the formal attire worn by her grandfather in family pictures, the artist is the only actress in a world of images taken from her old photo album. These black and white scenes make up a collage of her family memories, which she narrates in a performative play.

Lebohang Kganye’s Pied Piper’s Voyage (2014) is featured in the section Kins of the exhibition “A Feminine Lexicon”, underlining the links, bonds and connections we make, as Donna Haraway suggests, inside and outside our blood ties.

The section Kins features works by Monia Ben Hamouda, Helena Hladilová, Lebohang Kganye, and Alice Visentin.

Lebohang Kganye, Still from Pied Piper’s Voyage, 2014. © Lebohang Kganye. Courtesy the artist

PD, ET: How would you best describe your work Pied Piper’s Voyage? Where did the idea to make it come from?

LK: My artistic practice incorporates photography, theatre, performance, and sculpture. In Pied Piper’s Voyage, I reimagine my former body of work Heir-Story (Ke Lefa Laka) through moving image and sound and cast my grandfather’s impersonation as the film’s main character.
Dressed in my grandfather’s oversized suit and large hat, I step into his shoes and replay my family’s journey across six life-size installations.
My grandfather was the first member of the family to move from ‘homelands’ in the Orange Free State to the city in Transvaal to find work. The scenes I created are based on oral stories told by my family members, passed down from one generation to the next.

Lebohang Kganye, Still from Pied Piper’s Voyage, 2014. © Lebohang Kganye. Courtesy the artist

The animation Pied Piper’s Voyage is an ode to memory, tales, and their fabrication. Strategically layering contemporary material with archival fragments, I create an alternative universe where lost and living family members coexist.
To recreate each scene, I turn architectural elements borrowed from the Internet and portraits taken from my old family photo albums into a theatre set. […] The sound, created by Auntie Flo and Esa Williams, is in line with the animation’s pace and playful storyline.
In this rendering of Heir-Story in motion, I portray my family’s interpretations of the past and turn my grandfather into a romanticised hero.

Lebohang Kganye, Still from Pied Piper’s Voyage, 2014. © Lebohang Kganye. Courtesy the artistX

PD, ET: As we consider your work deeply rooted in the kinships and bonds that you are continuously creating inside and outside your family environment, what is your relationship with traditions, memory and family ties?

LK: They are kept stashed in wardrobes and chests while a few framed ones decorate room dividers. Family photographs are more than documentation of personal narratives; they become prized possessions, hearkening back to a certain event, a certain person, and a particular time.
But they are also vehicles to a fantasy that allows for a momentary space to ‘perform’ ideals of ‘family-ness’, and become visual constructions of who we think we are and hope to be, yet at the same time being an erasure of reality.

While the project documents my personal history and straddles generations of my mother’s family, it also resonates the history of South Africa, in that my family was uprooted and resettled because of apartheid laws and the amendment of land acts. The more I researched my family history, it became apparent that identity remains a space of extreme contradictions – in a way an experiment; it is a mixture of truth and fiction; a blending and clashing of histories and stories gathered, a malleable entity with the pretence of ‘fixedness’.


A Feminine Lexicon is an online exhibition curated by Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli, students in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze for Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, available at museo.ferragamo.com.

Lebohang Kganye is a visual artist and photographer. She lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli are undergraduate students of Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.

Fields of Study

You might be interested in…