Subotzky’s stellar international career is founded on his early photographic projects – made in Cape Town and Beaufort West – investigating themes of incarceration and punishment in South Africa, expanding his repertoire to include filmmaking, collage and – since 2017 – painting. “When I draw a line between all of my current heroes, the ones who really inspire me, they all have this shape-shifting quality, this restless need to start again every time, knowing nothing,” he has written. Echoing William Kentridge, he has described his studio as “a safe space where I can make a fool of myself, unbound from the rules of gravity, physics and vision.”1
This lot depicting the mining entrepreneur, Cape politician and British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes forms part of a body of work concerned with the “deconstruction of white masculine power”.2
Subotzky’s portrait of Rhodes, his face strategically whitewashed, is based on an 1890s photo taken by a member of Russell & Sons, a London studio known for their studies of “distinguished persons” and royals. Subotzky’s portrait was first exhibited at Frieze London in 2017, where it drew favourable mention in an article about global artists engaged with themes of decolonisation and racism.3
1. Mikhael Subotzky (2019) Interview with Hansolo Umberto Oberist, Self-published text accompanying exhibition Massive Nerve Corpus at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.
3. Anny Shaw (2017) ‘Artists step up to the plate in statues debate’, The Art Newspaper, 5 October: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/artists-step-up-to-the-plate-in-statues-debate