Developing Characters: Contending Cultures & Creative Commerce in a South African Photography Studio

This exhibition features 80 black-and-white portraits created by Singarum Jeevaruthnam Moodley, a.k.a. Kitty (1922-1987). Moodley worked as a professional photographer in Pietermaritzburg for over 40 years, and these remarkable images portray individuals classified under the apartheid regime as African, Indian and Coloured. Kitty's Studio was located at 118 Retief Street, Pietermaritzburg, and this selection of photos represents a small portion of its output from between 1972 and 1984. They commemorate, celebrate, and immortalise occasions both special and ordinary.

S.J. Moodley (Kitty), Boy in Oval Wicker Chair, photograph

S.J. Moodley (Kitty), Boy in Oval Wicker Chair, photograph

Kitty ran a flourishing commercial enterprise, but the studio also became a hub of anti-apartheid activism. Moreover, it provided a rare multiracial setting where clientele could try on different identities, mix the traditional and contemporary, meld the rural and urban, and securely project selves in ways that might or might not coincide with their routine lives. In other words, Kitty provided a stage upon which his customers were able to develop a multitude of characters.

These images reflect family and friendship, playfulness and solemnity, customary styles as well as the latest fashions of the day. They provide evocative glimpses into a time and place that seems at once familiar and remote.

The exhibition has been curated by Dr. Steven C. Dubin, Professor and Director of The Arts Administration Programme, Columbia University.

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