When Marie Claire South Africa named Tandekile Mkize as one of their Instagrammers to watch in 2018 they were not lying. His online presence makes him the poster child for the fearless generation: this ranges from use of fashion for self-expression to his use of photography to represent what the industry is lacking.
He is part of a whole new wave of thinking that is unapologetic: “I create work that aims to remind us that we don’t always have to adhere to boxed-in, linear ideas of who we should be, but rather be bold and unafraid in our expression,” says Mkize.
The artist is showing no signs of slowing down as he joins 49 other South African innovators as part of the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives programme in association with the Department of Arts and Culture.
Mkize exhibited his latest project, a film at the 2019 Design Indaba Festival, called The Evolution of Thug Alchemy.
He directed the film alongside Meghan Daniel and styled the film which looks at the art of alchemy in transforming any base metal to gold. Not wanting to give too much away, Mkize offered the Design Indaba audience a snippet of what his exhibition alludes to:
“This idea of transmutation is also the theme behind my exhibition; changing from one form to another, evolving, elevating. It speaks to the power we have to make it through circumstances and situations that seem inescapable or which seemingly keep us from realising our highest selves.”
A project that got the 23-year-old first recognised by Design Indaba is one that shows just how he has cross-pollinated fashion and photography to tell a story. Called Bloom, this photo series was created to inspire people of colour to bloom/shine, despite the odds stacked against them.
“The conditions of the human existence that I aim to strip away by using the imagery I create are gender, and it is also important to me to create work that represents black bodies in their glory,” he says.
The photo series was a collaboration with photographer Luxolo Witvoet and was first featured in Unlabelled Magazine. In each photograph, the presence of flowers is strong as Mkize uses it as a metaphor for something more.
“Bloom portrays a transitional dance of new growth, new life and a celebration of slipping away from the darkness, and allowing the light to pour in so that we can grow and expand and share our beauty with the world,” he explained.
In a piece he did for Unlabelled Magazine he explained why he chose flowers: “I find it incredible that flowers are able to grow through concrete. Somehow they find a crack to make their way out and grow and expand, sharing their beauty with the world.”
In his spare time, Mkize runs a blog called “In the Land of Thug Alchemy” which showcases everything that inspires his work in one place. In this blog, you will see the word “Thug” pop up often, from projects to his “Thug Life” tattoo, which he explains is more than a cultural phrase.
“'Thug Life' because I don't give a fuck about putting your discomfort at ease.'Thug Life' because I'm always gonna do as I please.'Thug Life' because I am unafraid to actualise my existence in spaces that do not allow me to be.”
Some other projects that Mkize has been a part of are the styling of emerging brand One I Am for SA Menswear Week SS19, and he was also featured in Vogue Italia with photographer Nazlee Arbee.
In his portfolio as a whole, Mkize represents the outcasts who have reclaimed their place in society using unapologetic thoughts and energy.
“At times we find ourselves in situations where we feel as though there’s no escaping the darkness, but there’s always a way out and it starts with a shift in our mindset. Hope is what keeps our dreams alive and uplifts our spirits.”