'Kin' expresses Pieter Hugo's discomfort with his homeland South Africa

Hugo's photgraphs in 'Kin' might best be called thoughtfully uncomfortable.

Pieter Hugo
Pieter Hugo

It’s an important time to look at South Africa.

Over the last few months, protests have spread on university campuses across the country as students have been crying out against embedded racial inequality in scenes similar to student protests here in the US. These students are the "born frees," the first generation of children who grew up in a post-apartheid South African, and they are now reaching adulthood and grappling with their country's history and the sometimes subtle legacy of apartheid.

In this climate, Pieter Hugo’s Kin offers a visual representation of his own struggle with his homeland. Hugo's photgraphs in "Kin" might best be called thoughtfully uncomfortable.

Hugo has worked on photo projects across Africa, focusing on individuals or groups on the fringe of society, from garbage scavengers to the Hyena Men of Nigeria. As with some of his other bodies of work, the images in "Kin" leave viewers with disquieting questions about presentation and stereotypes.

These feelings reflect Hugo’s inspiration for the work in "Kin," which was an attempt to address his relationship with deeply embedded problems from South Africa’s colonial past. “Issues of race and cultural custodianship permeate every aspect of society, and the legacy of forced racial segregation casts a long shadow. How does one live in this society? How does one take responsibility for history and to what extent should one try?,” he asks.

Aerial views of gated communities in Johannesburg paired with a miner’s monument in Braamfontein offer stark contrasts like the intimidating portrait of Hugo and his son placed not far after the portrait of Ann Sallies, the woman who helped raise Hugo and worked for his parents. Hugo’s work may not be relaxing, but it is lovely and undoubtedly important to view and consider.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.