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Dallas Design District boutique breaks stereotypes of African art

Dallas Design District boutique breaks stereotypes of African art

Sandy McLea
"Lighthouse" by Sandy McLea. Photo courtesy of Sandy McLea

Kanju Interiors is a purveyor of luxury African decor and interior goods in the Dallas Design District, where it works exclusively with artists and artisan groups from the African continent.

But it also lives a kind of secret life as a gallery, where it occupies an important role in introducing exciting artists such as Sandy McLea, a young South African photographer based in Capetown.

Kanju was the first to showcase McLea's work not only in Dallas, but in the United States.

Kanju owner Meghan Bartos is currently displaying work from his "Subsequent Streets" and "Idle Quarters" series, showcasing his technique of fusing contemporary landscape works with 3D effects.

"Idle Quarters" builds on "Subsequent Streets," taking still photographs at different times of the day, over the span of two weeks.

Merging his signature 3D style with collage, McLea recreates space and place, not as it exists at any given point, but as it exists in his memory. The work brings to mind questions of the nature of reality, time, and our place within it.

Bartos discovered McLea's work while on a scouting mission in South Africa. She had initially shied away from including photography but realized that work such as McLea's represented a valuable step beyond some of the stereotypes surrounding African art.

"I always think, how do we showcase what's really going on in terms of innovation in the art and design scene in Africa, that tends to be overlooked for the art forms or styles that people traditionally think of like tribal art, wildlife photography, and animal skins," Bartos says.

McLea's "Idle Quarters" focuses on abandoned homes in Kolmanskop, a ghost town and former German diamond mining settlement in the Namib Desert that got wiped out in the 1930s.

These are not mere collages: The photos are bent, cut, and strategically placed to create a new place that exists entirely in McLea's vision. He incorporates use of offbeat materials such as tiny LED lights, installed within the frame to create light and shadow — something not usually associated with the work of a fine arts photographer or photographic artist.

"I was trying to portray a story of a room or a town itself," he says. "Rather than show a picture of the room, I was trying to take people and put them in the room, trying to create a perspective."

English artist David Hockney seems to be a direct aesthetic inspiration for earlier McLea works such "Lighthouse," which incorporates multiple photographs, taken from different vantage points, their edges still visible, joined but purposely unlinking, to create a single image.

"We don't need to look at a scene from one point in one time," McLea says. "An image is more like memory, and I took that to heart."

"It’s more of an idea that I want you to be there," he says. "I wouldn't say it's consciousness, but a shared space to see and feel what I felt. You'll never be able to stand there and get the same view, but you’ll remember my work as that lighthouse or you’ll remember that lighthouse as my work and the works are like memory."

Photography is by nature a constricting medium, he says.

"Photographers are typically not given the ability to manipulate," he says. "Yes, there's Photoshop, but that's limited in a way. Painters and traditional artists have the ability to manipulate a scene — to put more clouds in, to portray it how they felt it and how it spoke to them."

"I wanted to be able to shoot something that wasn't really what I was seeing but more what I wanted to portray or what I was feeling," he says. "When I started doing photography as an art form, it was like, I don't want to shoot something with one click and just end it there."

McLea's work evokes shared unconsciousness and related phenomena like the theories of neuroscientist Karim Nader on how remembering changes our memories.

"There are guys that are doing similar things, but they're not the same," McLea says. "There's a guy who does kind of like a relief painting of places. There's a guy who cuts out photographs and stacks them."

"But the way I'm doing it with this body of work, I believe no one else is doing," he says. "I feel like I've added something to mixed media. A photograph is where it all starts, but it doesn't end there. I'm opening a possibility on how photography can be extended as an art form."