Back in May this year, we spoke to Johannesburg-based artist Rendani Nemakhavhani about her series The Honey. She explained that her photographic journey, created alongside photographer Kgomotso Neto Tleane, situates people of colour at a seat of power rather than struggle. Now, with the release of the latest chapter, Nemakhavhani continues to look at “blackness” from a sidelined perspective, the point of view of people of colour.
“I feel we are living in a time where all that most of us have known, and by us I mean black people/people of colour is to be accommodating of western lifestyles,” she explains.
Honey, played by Nemakhavhani, is described as a black woman who doesn't conform to a fixed identity. Exploring the themes of beauty, spaces, and the dynamics of power in a relationship, Honey challenges the stereotypes associated with people of colour while embracing the dynamic nature of the black identity.
“There’s one thing that I’ll never forget that Milisuthando Bongela once said in a master class she gave at Umuzi, and it was that white people have created a space where they are constantly seeing reflections of themselves. Whereas black people don’t have that. Most of what we do is made up of an excessive amount of western influence,” Nemakhavhani recalls, adding; “I believe that as a creator of beautiful work that reaches a wide audience, it is my responsibility to be part of the people who create the reflection that is needed in the black community.A reflection of my people. A reflection of me.”
As part of the aim to create a mirror, Nemakhavhani purposefully chose to leave the text accompanying some of her images in Zulu, providing no English translations. “How it works out in my head is that the person who interacts with the work and loves it, but doesn't understand what the copy means will take the initiative to find out. Whether it’s using a dictionary, a person who speaks the language (Zulu in this case) or whatever makes sense for them. I mean if people are eager to learn French and Italian, what's the harm in learning a few Zulu words?”
As for Tleane, the photographer who plays Honey’s love interest Gavini, the aesthetic to accompany Nemakhavhani’s artistic direction steers away from the traditionally pretty. “I don't know how to explain it, but I'm into a lot of grunge, texture, desaturation, grain... I'm not much into the pretty stuff, most of my photography is documentation and photojournalism, I tend to merge all those aspects into what I do,” he explains.
The first part of chapter five was done in collaboration with a number of unnamed artists. It marks the launch of the project’s website and is also a precursor to what Nemakhavhani describes as a “delightful surprise.”
As Tleane explains, these stories are important because “We get to tell our own experiences and stories. It's also important to people who may not know much about what it means to be a young person today in South Africa. Also, this work is archival. It’s a reference for people who will come after us. They will have something to look back on.”
Nemakhavani was part of the Emerging Creatives programme in 2015. Find out more about the programme here.