Guy Tillim



Artist: Guy Tillim
Title: Grande Hotel, Beira, Mozambique, from Avenue Patrice Lumumba                                                                                        Year: 2007-2008
Medium: Archival pigment print
Dimensions: 37 2/5 × 51 4/5 inches | 95.1 × 131.5 cm


Considered one of South Africa’s leading photographers, Guy Tillim focuses his lens on Africa’s social and political terrain, capturing child soldiers in the Congo, refugees in Angola, and urban life in Johannesburg. Tillim explores not only places of crisis in Africa, but also captures quieter scenes—in post offices, schools, and hotels. His carefully composed images counter the drama usually found in photojournalism, expressing instead the complex realities and perceptions of Africa. In his series “Avenue Patrice Lumumba” (2007–08), Tillim documented the many streets in Africa named after Patrice Lumumba, one of the continent’s first elected African leaders of modern times, who was later murdered. Depicting modernist buildings in various states of decay, Tillim suggests the failed idealism of Africa’s independence movement. “Patrice Lumumba’s dream, his nationalism, is discernible in the structures, if one reads certain clues,” Tillim has said, “as is the death of his dream, in these de facto monuments.”

In many African cities, there are streets, avenues and squares named after Patrice Lumumba, one of the first elected African leaders of modern times, winning the Congo election after independence from Belgium in 1960. His speech at the independence celebrations in Léopoldville, in the presence of the Belgian King, Baudouin, unequivocally signalled his opposition to the West’s idea of neo-colonial order that would replace overt domination with indirect control. He was assassinated in January 1961 by Belgian agents after UN complicity in the secession of the provinces of Katanga and South Kasai, and a Western power-supported military coup led by Mobutu Sese Seko. Today his image as a nationalist visionary necessarily remains unmolested by the accusations of abuse of power that became synonymous with later African heads of state.

Guy Tillim embarked on this project as the recipient of the first Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography granted by the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. Avenue Patrice Lumumba will be shown in 2009 at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris, France; The Photographers’ Gallery in London; Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal. A book has been published by Prestel.

In 2008 Tillim has held solo exhibitions at Haunch of Venison in Zurich and Haus für Kunst in Altdorf, Switzerland, and has been included on Biennale Cuvée at the OK Center for Contemporary Art in Linz, Austria; the Hereford Photography Festival – Contemporary Photography from South Africa Part 2 – in the UK; and Presumed Innocence: Photographic Perspectives of Children at DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Massachusetts, USA.

South African, b. 1962, Johannesburg, South Africa, based in Cape Town, South Africa