Gallery MOMO, Photography and The Art Industry with Juan Terblanche


Gallery MOMO has recently opened up a new space in Cape Town to house its decorated roster of artists. Artists exhibiting at the gallery have been at the forefront of the local and international art world. These artists, through their respective genres, keep pushing the boundaries of local and international markets. The gallery continues to support local and international young-and-upcoming talent through its renowned residency program. Shots011 caught up with the gallery’s publicist and marketer Juan Terblanche to gather insight on the gallery’s insights on photography and the broader art market.


Shots011: Please tell us about the gallery, its history and why it exists?


JT: The gallery opened in 2002, by Monna Mokoena and opened its doors to the public in 2003. Gallery MOMO is one of the transformed galleries in the country. We are taking new young-up-and coming artists and create a career for them. Gallery MOMO has proved quite excellent in this endeavor, we’ve managed Mary Sibande’s career, and we’ve helped Blessing Ngubeni. Blessing came from the streets and got into prison, while in prison he started doing art there and became the head of the art programme in prison. When he came out he decided to continue with art and went to the Bag Factory and then MOMO offered him to come here.


So I think MOMO is pushing a lot of great talent out there!


Shots011: How has photography impacted the South African Visual Art industry, since the gallery opened in 2003?


JT: I think the industry is flooded by photography at the moment and remains a valid form of art. I always say it’s like painting, the person holding a paint brush expresses his self through the paint and his emotions come through on the canvas. As a photographer, if you want to just take happy-snappy’s, you will see that coming through the photographs. But when you go out and you really want to capture emotion that’s when the photographer comes through. You can see it in Andrew Tshabangu’s work, Pieter Hugo, Zanele Muholi, it comes through!


Mohau Modisakeng’s work is very interesting. You get the performance side, where an artist performs and is photographed, even though he is not the photographer. So on the one side: you are the photographer, and on the other side: you’re not the photographer. You also have people like Mary Sibande, she is not a photographer but her work is photographed and sold as photographs.


And then there is Ayana V Jackson, she is also a photographer, she is in her work herself but she is not taking the photographs. The lines are being blurred now; you are seen as a photographer even though you are sometimes not the one taking the photographs.


Shots011: The gallery holds a much decorated roster of artists, of that roster, how many of the artists use photography as a chosen medium?


JT: Jonathan Hindson, currently exhibiting, he uses photography but in a different way. For him, photography is a starting point, he takes the photographs he has taken and transfers them into his paintings. Although he is not a photographer, photography is part of his process.


Next Year we are having a show on Ayana V. Jackson again, Mary Sibande is exhibiting again. George Hallet is one of our great artists. Roger Ballen is exhibiting in January. Roger is a photographer through and through!


Shots011: Does the gallery have a certain aesthetic or themes that they search for with regard to the artists they represent?


JT: I would not say it’s a certain aesthetic theme. What Monna does is that he will go out and see what talent is out there and if he sees potential talent, he will keep his eye on that person for the next few years. If he feels that they career is moving in the right direction, he will invite them into the gallery to do a residency with us. It’s a three month residency and through that residency they have their solo show here.





Shots011: The gallery is part of a number of global art fairs; can you make a clear distinction between South African contemporary photography, and the rest of the world?


JT: I think you can. I think South African’s have a different way of expressing themselves especially in photography. If you take a for example, Roger Ballen, born in America and came here as a geologist, but then went into the poverty stricken areas of South Africa and documented the poor white people of South Africa. I think that raised a lot of controversy.


I think as a South African you are able to push that boundary to go and seek things that other people won’t. With Andrew Tshabangu, he is Joburg based and his photographs stem mostly from Joburg. He looks at the movement, how the city is currently transitioning from being the economic hub during the apartheid era and everything moving to Sandton. The city transitioned again with new people coming in there. So Andrew captures this on-going movement of joburg.


I don’t think there is another country in the world that has a rich history like South Africa has. I mean we’ve been through a lot and there is still a lot to be said. Pieter Hugo as well, he went to Nigeria and did a series with people with hyenas.  As a South African photographer you get to be boisterous like that and not scared to say “I am South African, we are used to everything there.”





Shots011: Compared to other mediums, how well does photography perform in the South African art market and abroad?


JT: With the well-known photographers it’s definitely going well. With young up-and-coming they are not going to sell as quickly. But I think the photography market is doing well at the moment. There is definitely room for photographs although people are still hesitant to buy it.


If your edition is big, people question it: am I buying an investment or not? At the end of the day most people, especially the ones with the money, buy art for investment purposes. And if you have a huge edition of photographs they are not going to buy it, they will, maybe, but if you have a smaller edition there is more value to it and they can resell it. So I think it’s tricky with the photography market at the moment, whole art market is tricky with the economy we are going through.


With photography, yes it’s out there, I am looking at auction houses and how they are performing. Not a lot of photography is being pushed in the auction houses, except the well-known South African photographers, but it will get there eventually. You can even see it with the Joburg Art Fare there were not a lot of photographs, it was mostly paintings. There’s a trend of people moving back to old school.


I think photography as art it’s still new in South Africa but it will get there. People should not be discouraged and not do photography. Not everybody can be a photographer, but the ones that are able to do it, should do it and pursue that definitely. We also have a lot of great galleries that present photography world wide.




Shots011: Looking at the online market, will we see a transitioning from MOMO to an online platform too?


JT: Not in the near future. MOMO still believes in the hands-on approach when it comes with dealing with a client. Learning what the clients wants, and helping the client choose an art work that is perfect for them. You can’t do that online, I think the human interaction is important.


Shots011: Which artist do you believe represents the South African Aesthetic?


JT: Andrew Tshabangu Definitely!


These 10 questions originally came from a French series, “Bouillon des Culture” hosted by Bernard Pivot. They’re better known as the questions that James Lipton asks every guest at the end of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”.  Their addition to this questionnaire is to get to know a bit more about Juan the person, instead of the artist, a bit more about Juan outside of MOMO



What is your favorite word

It’s an Afrikaans word, Git,its like “Oh Gosh”, it just got more power in Afrikaans like Git!


What is your least favorite word?

The “F” word


What turns you on creatively?

 The human form I would say, when I was creating art I was especially interested in the mail form. How it is depicted as opposed to the female form. I like watching people and how they interact with each other.


What turns you off?

You know those paintings you see in retail stores? That turns me off tremendously!


What is your favorite curse word?

It’s a Greek word, Malaka, which means wanker!


What sound or noise do you love?

I am Greek orthodox, so the sound that transforms me is that sound when I work into church and the peole are busy chanting. I could listen to it for hours.


What sound or noise do you hate?

Leaf Blowers! I can’t stand them.


What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I want to become a priest.


What profession would you not like to do?

A lawyer! I definitely do not want to become a lawyer!


If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Why haven’t you tried more?

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  1. […] met Juan of Gallery MOMO a few weeks ago to discuss the impact photography has had on the African art market since the Gallery opened its doors in 2003. On Exhibition was the work of Jonathan Hindson who had been serving his three month residency with […]

    7th December 2015
  2. khanya mehlo said:

    hi im khanya mehlo n ihave been to momo gallery n its a good gallery that one day that i will like to be in the residence with im olso a visual artist ihave done residence at the bag factory artist studios n greatmoor art studios so if the are residences iwill like to take part

    27th June 2017

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