Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1964, Berni Searle works with photography and the moving image. Often but not exclusively using herself in her work, she performs for the camera, producing works that explore issues of self-representation, the relationship between personal and collective identity and narratives connected to history, memory and place. While her works are often explored in dialogue with the socio-political legacy of South Africa and in relation to current day realities, her use of metaphor and poetic ambiguity transcend the specificity of context, drawing on shared human emotions associated with displacement, vulnerability and loss. The politics and poetics of place have always been of central concern in her work.
Searle has a master's degree from the University of Cape Town's Michaelis School of Fine Art, where she is a Professor and Director. Her work was featured in the 49th and 51st Venice Biennale (2001 and 2005 respectively). Previous exhibitions include 'Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive at the Walther Collection,' Ulm, Germany (2014-2015); 'Earth Matters at the National Museum of African Art,' Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA (2014); 'Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography,' Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA (2011); 'Figures and Fictions,' Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK (2011); 'HomeLands/LandMarks: Contemporary Art from South Africa,' Haunch of Venison, London, UK (2008); 'Global Feminisms,' Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY, USA (2007); 'New Photography,' Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA (2007); and 'Personal Affects, Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art,' Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, NY, USA (2004).
In 2019, Searle was artist in residence at the Maitland Institute, Cape Town and the 'Featured Artist' at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. In 2014, she was the Rockefeller Bellagio Creative Arts Fellow, and in 2015 she won the Mbokodo Award in the Visual Arts category. She was short-listed for the Artes Mundi Prize in 2004 and was the recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art, South Africa in 2003, as well as the Minister of Culture Prize at DAK'ART in 2000.