Andrew Putter’s photographic series, Native Works, shows 21 South Africans in both their native, traditional dress, and their modern attire. These two images – traditional and modern, shown next to each other, present a powerful image. It goes to show that many Africans have one leg in the West and one in tradition. We switch between both outfits (and indeed both identities) as we struggle to keep up in both.
By exploring his own complex feelings towards an ideologically tainted but aesthetically compelling visual archive, Putter enters the fraught terrain of ethnographic representation to wrestle with himself about his own complicity, as an artist and a white South African, in this troubled visual legacy. Art critic Alex Dodd writes that this new work ‘constitutes one of those rare instances in which it becomes unmistakably clear to the viewer that the primacy of authorial intention has everything to do with the subtle alchemy that determines the meaning and affective power of images. In this case, the immense respect and tenderness that went into the making of the photographs registers visually as a kind of auratic quality of dignity that shines through each and every portrait.’Stevenson
‘the power of colonial, ethnographic images and the consequential attitudes they evoke’.