By Mamello Makhetha
This article is a collaborative project between Phumzile Konile and Mamello Makhetha for the Online Edition 7 of VARSITY News.
This photo series and its concept came from a place of yearning to archive and canonize black womxn in their glory. The photographs draw from the South African 80’s and 90’s zeitgest, the fashion, the look and feel of both the environments and the black womxn from the photos of the time. Womxn that are, were and will forever be unapologetic, womxn that asserted their identities fluidly and gracefully, in the face of a government that tried to steal that away from them. It’s a time capsule that reminisces about the various black womxn that have influenced, will influence and are influencing us right now. This influence unravels itself in a mozaic like pattern across our lives. They hold ancestral and living power in both of our lives. This power radiates in various directions at all times from figures both familiar and iconic. It is paying homage to our mothers, great grandmothers, sisters and friends.
It is centered around re-imagining and re-archiving sentimentalities and the general 80’s and 90’s spirit of black womxn in South Africa. We were inspired by our mothers, fashion and style of that era. We present and represent them in a time that draws from a very specific cultural, social and political history. A particular history that celebrates and essentialises a time in the lives that honoured these womxn. It is a recognition of the days of bell bottoms, , Ma Brrrr, Mme Miriam Makeba, bright yellow cocktail dresses with sleeves pressed to shoulders , dresses that look like they have been painted on, matching stilettos, “WHOOOO MY MAAAAT!!!!”,university study sessions with the girls at Fort Hare and lifting your leg to the sky in a newly ironed A-line skirt with pleats, next to your favourite tree, when the photographer yelled ‘ithi CHEESE.” This photo series is both intimate and political work for both of us, as artistic, historical and spiritual collaborators. We pay homage through this photo series, to the limitless lineage of these womxn. It is an idea and a lense they can use to reflect on the past, and all its magical aesthetics, a way to engage with their present, both with themselves and hopefully with other black womxn.
The series draws from a time of cultural and racial self-actualization, a time when black people were defining, through popular culture mediums, of what it means to be black. This is the product of that, and with the help of all the images that we used as reference points , it is one that is colourful, full of life and love, full of truth and courage. We have created and constructed a world that allows us to imagine our present selves in the images of the projected past.