Photographer Lebohang Kganye won this year’s Sasol New Signatures Art Competition for her animated film Ke sale teng. Charl Blignaut chats with her about ancestors, recollections and cardboard cut-outs.

"It’s funny, I was with my gran when you called earlier and she was raising this same thing with me – that the ancestors who I spoke with in the work are blessing me,” says Lebohang Kganye.

I’d asked the 2017 New Signatures-winning artist about how it felt to investigate her family history in her body of photographic work Ke Lefa Laka (My Heritage) and her new animated film Ke sale teng (I’m still here). Was it like calling them to life; a kind of spell?

“I started this journey in 2012”, after her mother died, says the 27-year-old. “I guess I felt my mother was my only link to my family. When she died, I felt I had lost that identity ... So I began travelling to locate my family and hear the stories of our history...”

In the extraordinary Ke Lefa Laka, she dressed up and superimposed herself onto her mom’s old photos. The ghostly design is like performing memory.

In her new film, the 2015 Jury Prize-winner at the Bamako Encounters Biennale of African Photography animates old photos of her family to tell the story of how they settled in Joburg. She does so by creating cardboard cut-outs, which move into life like pop-up illustrations in a book.

About her grandfather, Kganye says: “He passed on years before I was born, but so many of the stories are about him. He moved to Joburg first, and the rest of the family would come and stay at his home in Katlehong when they moved to the city.”

She says the research has helped heal her and define her identity.

The resulting work is part history and part fantasy – a fluidity of design elements that bring to life the stories that each family tells.

Kganye’s film is original and inspired, playing out of the journey of the photos she takes. It combines her love of photography (she won the Tierney Fellowship Award in 2012 after studying at the Market Photo Workshop), sculpture (which she majored in, while studying art at the University of Johannesburg) and performance (Kganye loved theatre and storytelling at school), as well as the feeling of a TV set (she worked as the official photographer on’s soapies Scandal! and Rhythm City).

The artist is delighted by the award and being recognised at home – the bulk of her work has sold to significant international collections.

When #Trending asks what she will be working on next, she says: “It may sound weird, but I want to mechanise the cardboard cut-outs so that they move when they are exhibited.”

Here is a renaissance design mind – the art equivalent of being able to sing, dance and act.

  • See Kganye’s film and other winners of the Sasol New Signatures Exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum until October 8