by Lindiwe Dhlamini
Photos by Lerato Dumse
It is exactly a month since the opening of the Yithi Laba exhibition at the Market Photo Workshop (MPW) from 28 Feb – 22 April. The showing artists; Neo Ntsoma, Lindeka Qampi, Honorary Professor and French Laurette honored Sir. Zanele Muholi and Ruth Motau hosted presentations to the students, fellow photographers and the public about their journey in photography in relation to 25 years of democracy.
Bernie Searle could not make it due to other commitments; her work remains an inspiration to many. The presentations took place at the MPW Auditorium, which was overflowing with other people sitting on the stairs. Although, there were technical glitches at the beginning, which led the event to start 30 minutes later, Velile Maureen Majola moderated the event very well. In the room there was also people from Gauteng TV who came to document the event and our very own Inkanyiso crew was present as usual with some of the participants from Faces and Phases, friends and family members of the presenting photographers.
Neo was the first speaker, the Vryburg born multi-award-winning photographer shared parts of her journey many of us did not know. The audience was impressed with the amount of work that Neo has shot over the years with the highlight being shooting inside the house of the revolutionary Mother Theresa. Neo’s journey started in 1992 at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) where she was met with a lot of difficulties, which led her not to complete her studies. She states, “I felt like I did not belong” Neo spoke about the racial and gender discrimination that was very visible. She would use her images to voice out those harsh realities she was facing then.
Neo further spoke about how she used photography as a tool “to show the beauty of the Black race”. However, her resilience was met with an expulsion for not wanting to conform to the white supremacist system which wanted to see Black images in debilitating conditions and nothing that empowers them. Neo states that her Yithi Laba selection was chosen to remind her of why she wanted to do photography in the first place. Her images of famous musicians who are still celebrated legends today are a true reflection of the beauty that we rarely saw on mainstream media in the 90’s and that is what Neo wanted to show the world.
Up next was the multi-talented Lindeka Qampi, a force to be reckoned with. A woman so powerful, humble, resilient, hardworking and talented. Lindeka has won a much deserved Mbokodo Award in 2015 and continues to break boundaries with her style of photography. Her use of trash as props and turning it into beauty, to resemble her struggles and achievements in life. Lindeka started photography in 2006 when she was 36-years-old and has since used it as a way to tell her story. Lindeka is a rape survivor who uses art to break the silence and to encourage others to do the same. In a poem she wrote titled; Inside my heart she verbalizes how the trauma forced her to hide her pain which destroyed her – “silence destroyed my inside body and my soul”.
Lindeka continues to be a role model for many survivors and the young people that she trains in the Photography Xperience workshops, teaching art and photography with Inkanyiso crew. Currently, she does self-portraits and uses the Land as a theme to tell the stories and to highlight the lack of housing and land for the poor in her community. Lindeka left the audience with these important words; “do not limit yourself, combine other forms of arts to tell your own story”.
“A shutter button has no gender” these are the words uttered by the legendary multi-award, honorary Professor and French Laurette Sir Muholi who is the brains behind the Yithi Laba exhibition. Muholi’s work continues to challenge the norms of society and it has transformed even more with the recent works in Somnyama Ngonyama where the lens is on Muholi. All their projects seem to be a way of making noise without annoyance just an invitation of self-introspection for the viewer to interpret the work how they experience it.
Muholi’s selection for Yithi Laba centered Love as the message for the viewer yet, if you take a deeper look you see the variations of this love displayed in the images. Self-love, love of others, love of space and time. The contradictions force you to question how you see this work, to love it or not – it is there to be seen. Having shown in many countries Muholi has shared those spaces with fellow Queers, who would have never had the opportunity to travel abroad. Their presentation was nothing short of this love and expression of it through out. The message was simple it is all done in the name of LOVE – of photography, telling stories, self, family, friends, country, race, beauty and of course love of life. Muholi’s parting words remain; “we must never wait for others to define who we are, who to love or how to love”.
To close off the informative, fun and inspirational presentation session was none other than one of the first Black woman photographers in the country; Ruth Motau. Born and bred in Soweto, Meadowlands Ruth did not let where she came from limit her dreams. She has worked hard to earn a spot as one of the first mentees of the late David Goldblatt whom she honored during her presentation. Ruth is an MPW alumni for the class of 1993 and her work over the years has been reflective of the hard work she has put in.
Ruth’s selection for Yithi Laba is a journey of self-identity, spirituality and praise. In this body of work, she challenges the viewer to remember their own relations with spirituality and interrogates the modern-day religion. The way in which Ruth expresses and tells her story through the use of photography is relevant even though the images were taken over a decade ago. Her words of encouragement are testament to the latter; “whatever you do is a journey, always tell your own story.
By the time the Question and Answer session arrived most of the audience was anxious to ask questions and furnish words of love and support to the photographers. An interrogation of key issues of access and support for upcoming photographers were some of the issues raised. What stood out, was the possibility of a book by Black female photographers that can be used by Photography students in institutions of higher learning and hosting the South African Photography Festival were some of the suggestions made by the audience.
For those who have not seen the show or would like to bring friends and family, Yithi Laba is on show till 22 April 2019 following an extension.