Pieter Hugo

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Pieter Hugo (born 1976) is a South African artist who, through his large format colour photographs, investigates the complex relationships between history, culture and environment. His career has focused on photographing marginalised communities and those on the periphery of society. The winner of numerous prestigious awards, Hugo’s work has been exhibited internationally.

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Works

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The Hyena Men of Abuja, Lagos, Nigeria, 2007 by Pieter Hugo

The Hyena Men of Abuja, Lagos, Nigeria, 2007

Pieter Hugo

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Mummy Ahmadu and a Snake Charmer with a Rock Python, Abuja, Nigeria, 2005 by Pieter Hugo

Mummy Ahmadu and a Snake Charmer with a Rock Python, Abuja, Nigeria, 2005

Pieter Hugo

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Portrait #17, South Africa, 2016 by Pieter Hugo

Portrait #17, South Africa, 2016

Pieter Hugo

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Portrait #1, Rwanda, 2014 by Pieter Hugo

Portrait #1, Rwanda, 2014

Pieter Hugo

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Portrait #12, Rwanda, 2015 by Pieter Hugo

Portrait #12, Rwanda, 2015

Pieter Hugo

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Portrait #13, Rwanda, 2014 by Pieter Hugo

Portrait #13, Rwanda, 2014

Pieter Hugo

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Portrait #16, South Africa, 2016 by Pieter Hugo

Portrait #16, South Africa, 2016

Pieter Hugo

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Emeka, Motorcyclist and Abdullahi Ahmadu, Asaba, Nigeria, 2007 by Pieter Hugo

Emeka, Motorcyclist and Abdullahi Ahmadu, Asaba, Nigeria, 2007

Pieter Hugo

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Mohammed Rabiu with Jamis, Asaba, Nigeria, 2007 by Pieter Hugo

Mohammed Rabiu with Jamis, Asaba, Nigeria, 2007

Pieter Hugo

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The Asylum Seeker, Hermosillo, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

The Asylum Seeker, Hermosillo, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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Black Friday, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

Black Friday, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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Burning Bush, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

Burning Bush, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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First Communion, Mexico City, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

First Communion, Mexico City, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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The Bricklayer, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

The Bricklayer, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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Spring Blossom, Mexico City, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

Spring Blossom, Mexico City, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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The Wedding Gift, Junchitán de Zaragoza, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

The Wedding Gift, Junchitán de Zaragoza, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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The Hero Prop, Mexico City, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

The Hero Prop, Mexico City, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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Rico, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

Rico, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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The Snake Charmer, Hermosillo, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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Brujería, Juchitán de Zaragoza, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

Brujería, Juchitán de Zaragoza, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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The Sceptic’s Proof, Mexico City, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

The Sceptic’s Proof, Mexico City, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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The Mirthful Cowboy, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

The Mirthful Cowboy, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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Muxe Portrait #3, Junchitán de Zaragoza, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

Muxe Portrait #3, Junchitán de Zaragoza, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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Don Quixote, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

Don Quixote, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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The Road Home, Between Mexico City and Oaxaca de Juárez, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

The Road Home, Between Mexico City and Oaxaca de Juárez, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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After Siqueiros, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

After Siqueiros, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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The Road that Goes Nowhere, Sonora, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

The Road that Goes Nowhere, Sonora, 2019

Pieter Hugo

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Reclining Nude, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018 by Pieter Hugo

Reclining Nude, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2018

Pieter Hugo

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Bordello, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2019 by Pieter Hugo

Bordello, Oaxaca de Juárez, 2019

Pieter Hugo

Watch : Pieter Hugo Introduces his Latest Body of Work, 'La Cucaracha'

Watch Pieter Hugo introduce his latest body of work, La Cucaracha: a series which explores death, sexuality and spirituality in Mexico and reflects the artist’s long-standing interest in how history and environment can shape a culture and those living within it.

Early Life and Career

Pieter Hugo was born in Johannesburg in 1976, growing up during apartheid in South Africa. He turned 19 in 1994, the year in which legislated apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela came to power.

His career has focused on photographing marginalised communities and those on the periphery of society. He has worked primarily in South Africa and on the African continent, but has also travelled extensively, producing series in the United States, China, and most recently, Mexico.

Major Series

His seminal series The Hyena and Other Men (2005 – 2007) portrays a troupe of animal charmers in northern Nigeria accompanied by their hyenas, rock pythons and baboons. The startling and confrontational series of portraits reveal the group’s complex, liminal existence. The Hyena and Other Men examines the opposing concepts of wildness and domesticity, dominance and submission and tradition and modernity.

Rwanda 2004: Vestiges of a Genocide (2011) revisited sites of tragedy in Rwanda ten years after the mass executions, where Hugo found evidence and detritus from the genocide still visible, even after the decade that had passed. He unflinchingly photographed the fraught landscape of the country, visiting the mass graves and sites of executions.

Permanent Error (2009-2010) depicts Agbogbloshie, a landfill site for technological waste on the outskirts of Ghana’s capital city, where Hugo produced a series of arresting portraits of workers among the broken computers, mobile phones and other international technological scrap that is slowly transforming into noxious waste, threatening the health of the area’s inhabitants and the workers who make their living on the site.

Kin (2014) is a series, produced over eight years, in which Hugo focuses on his personal experience of his native South Africa, a country defined by complex political and racial tensions and contradictions. The series confronts issues of colonialisation, racial diversity and economic disparity. Deeply personal, Hugo describes the project as ‘an engagement with the failure of South African colonial experiment and my sense of being ‘colonial driftwood’.’

1994 (2016) is a series in which Hugo depicted a generation of children, born in 1994 in South Africa and Rwanda, who were growing up in a post-revolutionary era. In 1994, the apartheid government relinquished power to the African National Congress in South Africa, the same year of the Rwandan genocide, where an estimated eight hundred thousand people were murdered in the space of just a few months. The series is a hopeful one, and Hugo has said of the project, ‘I noticed how the kids, particularly in South Africa, don’t carry the same historical baggage as their parents.’

Recent Work

His latest series, La Cucaracha (2019), explores death, sexuality and spirituality in Mexico. This body of work is the result of four trips to Mexico over a period of two years and presents a multifaceted and sensitive study of place. The series reflects the artist’s long-standing interest in how history and environment can shape a culture and those living within it. Hugo looks to rituals of rites of passage, and their associated formal codes of conduct and dress, and also the wider rituals of religion, theatre and community.

Selected Awards

Hugo received the Discovery Award at the Recontres d’Arles Festival and the KLM Paul Huf Award in 2008, the Seydou Keita Award at the Recontres de Bamako African Photography Biennial in 2011, and was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2012. In 2015, he was shortlisted for the Prix Pictet and was chosen as the ‘In Focus’ artist for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London. He lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa.

Exhibition In Focus: La Cucaracha

La Cucaracha, shown at Huxley-Parlour Gallery in 2020, reflects the artist’s long-standing interest in how history and environment can shape a culture and those living within it. Hugo looks to rituals of rites of passage, and their associated formal codes of conduct and dress, but also wider rituals of religion, theatre and community.

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