4, DC: What are some of your thoughts or feelings during and after the process of making your work?
ZM: Sometimes when thinking (about) “before” and “after”, the “before” is more… like a journey to be undertaken if I could simplify it. When I’m thinking I have to take photographs, what do I want to say, but I think I’ve used almost every piece of something? How can I use this without repeating the previous shot taken and already out there in the world, shared and also probably hung (on) people’s walls, especially for those who collect photographs? It becomes harder, that journey, like many kilometers to travel without reaching there because it’s not yet processed or not yet done. And then the “after”–it’s exciting because I could play with that image, but getting started… that ignition is always a key or major because I want to do it, but how is it going to look like and when the image is taken I’m no longer myself and I don’t look like this.
And most of the images are like highly feminized, which is not my cup of tea or 24/7 kind of living, I’m kind of like in between… like androgynous kind of.
For most of my work, it’s like femme, but that’s not my language. And then for some ways, I’m like kind of masculine with not much dress. It then reads as different, and also it speaks to ancestry or connection with the males in my family and then with the feminine. It is in response to the history of women or histories of women and history of female body beings in space and how they (are) treated and how they (are) objectified. Then it becomes like so many things. And when you look where I’m wearing a headscarf, that’s a different person that connects to my mother, who is late and then you have other ones in which I am responding on a female gender body in space that (has) been ill-treated or a person who has gone through an experience that almost connects to my work.
So, with all of this, how do you then create images that speak to them–that speaks to you, that speaks to so many people in which you kind of emphasize the need (for) self-love, which is not easy but so complicated on its own just like the thought of what does it mean to self-love, to self-care, to reconnect with the inner being or self? So, it becomes that complex/ complicated document when looking at these visuals and you think to yourself. “Oh, wow. That’s the thing.” So people tend to read mostly the objects that are used in these photographs and the materials that are used in these photographs because they’re accessible to them or they know of them because they use them at their disposal. So, it’s different, but in all I just want to preach the importance of self-representation, to speak your truth if you can.
And also to make a statement when or where there is a need to promote scripting or writing of black-black histories, using (the) self as a subject to say that this whole thing and these issues and these personal experiences they start with us and it’s very important that we share them without fear or fail because if we do not change the visual history, nobody (will) do (it) or write that visual narrative for us or on our behalf because your personal experience is your personal experience, and if you feel that you are not like fully represented or not represented at all, you have to take action and try to be responsible and do your bit. And then the next person will continue from where you have started or where others have started.
Speaking as a black person in South Africa, when I don’t see many of us in the media or mainstream media, what do I do? Do I complain? I’m struggling with this self-loving, so that the bit that I could do is to photograph myself. It’s a little bit; It’s not much that I’m doing to say, Okay, by the way, if I cannot indulge on certain things, just share a picture at least that will make another person wish to take their own pictures and then it means that a million South-Africans or a million Africans taking pictures, painting their own pictures will then leave this world with massive documents that will be read millions (of) years to come, which will then become like rare books that lives over generations.
And when this planets changes into somethings that we don’t know because we might not be there then, then the next generations will look at us as these foreign bodies that once lived in which they read about a thing or two like how we taught at schools or universities about African tribes and their regalia that they wore, the attires or the traditional dress that they (would wear), and the headscarves that they had back then. We just cannot make sense how they used little or natural products or herbs to make this look so beautiful. And we get excited and we want to use that as a reference to what we do presently and what (do) we call it these days? We say it’s fashion or high fashion, and we’re talking about the trash that has become something, but it once existed before.
The colours that we paint in our photographs–how we stand next to something because we want to look good–it existed before, but maybe a person wasn’t standing next to the mirror or next to the rock and what was next to the rock is now a table. What was the mirror maybe was a reflection in (the) water, and it was still a beautiful image. And how it was produced or realized, it was not the cameras as such, but it was a different form of a plate that was turned into something so important or remarkable, which leads to the aesthetic that we speak about these days. So, these images are just for processing, for people to learn from them, and also for people to care and to rethink of what visuality is all about.
What is black personhood all about? How (do we) change the narrative and rethink or learn (about) or respect people’s differences, people’s races, and people’s aesthetics and people’s presence? And when people do not understand something, it allows them to ask questions in order for them to get proper responses to learn from those.
So, Somnyama Ngonyama is just that educational piece of visual document that I guess speaks to the masses. And if people don’t get it, I guess they’ll be affected by those visuals in a different way and they’ll have something to take home with (them) because one could ask why are we so infested by so many black images? It’s because they are not used to seeing many in the countries or respective countries or maybe there are many black people who exist in those spaces but they never get an opportunity to photograph themselves to process their presence in those spaces, to project themselves in a light manner which won’t make them to be dissed or displaced.
So, it (serves) to dismantle all the systems in place that devalues or disadvantages or undermines a black body or a black person, or expertise rather of a black person. And in my headspace, I could say that there are so many pictures in the world, but most of them–most beautiful black people’s images–were not taken by them. They were seen by others, they were captured by others, they were projected by others in their own… in those third parties’ way. It was never about the first person.
So now, in this instance, I just wanted to use the “I” as in ethnographically, “I” as in me, giving myself–presenting, projecting, dispatching myself–to the world in this manner. So, people get to rethink, respect, and also reconnect with these bodies that they never did before. So there’s so much into it.
It’s like overloaded and it’s one of the documents in which you use your sight. You want to touch; you want to say something. So there are so many dialogues that are being created with this document that you are seeing in front of you but it is a personal archive.
It’s a visual creation that is not common, which is getting common these days because there are so many people who are either painting themselves black or want to mimic this blackness, or share it in a certain way.