#DI Exclusive: Naba Abolova’s Zenhlanhla Myeni on retelling the narrative of township youth

The Emerging Creative chats to us about addressing the gaps in mainstream media

Please tell us about your creative collective and how it started?

Naba Abolova (formally Lovarism) aren’t just photographers, we are so much more than that, so it’s hard to explain when we really started. We realized there’s so little content online that black people can relate to. The lower class is always shown as hungry and poor. At some point, we all realised that we needed to change the narrative.   

What are some of your biggest inspirations?

We are inspired by our regular lives, the joy and happiness we see on a daily basis. The love from the community. We are inspired by our peers and the youth of the townships that are working hard to be the first generation to have wealth within their families.   

What is your biggest career highlight?

The biggest highlight was building the Thesis Lifestyle online store - as Naba Abolova we were the perfect fit for that brand. We represent the kasi life and Thesis is a brand that is in alignment with our values as kasi ambassadors. We were the web developers and content creators of the site. It felt good starting a project from scratch and seeing it to completion, especially for a well-known kasi brand like Thesis Lifestyle. 

How would you describe your aesthetic? 

Firstly, Skin. Black people only recently started loving and finding value in their dark skin. They used to think of being light-skinned as being beautiful, are used to seeing models being so clean, fit and more importantly “yellow or white” but Naba Abolova is breaking the rules. We show you the beauty of being raw and facing the world in your natural skin. The beauty of uninterrupted world views and facts, the beauty of black skin.

Secondly, Society. Naba Abolova shows you what it’s like to be in different levels of society. Getting rid of the notion that only accomplished and successful people belong on magazine covers. Naba Abolova glamorises the casual boy and girl you’re used to seeing on a daily basis… as if everyone belongs on the cover of Vogue. Because they show you how to appreciate happiness in all its forms within different levels of society. 

Naba Abolova’s creative journey is based on the lives of the collective’s members. We live the life we capture and everything in it is an authentic township experience. Every picture we take is in every way, a life of "Abolova" (the unemployed black youth). We noticed that the Internet does not have enough creative content that the common kasi kid can identify with, so we are changing the “poor African kid” narrative by creating content that is unique to the new-age African youth experience.

Please tell us about breaking the Township stigma through your work?

A lot of photographs glamorise poverty and show the beauty within the struggle. We do that sometimes too, but we are just kasi kids trying to make something of ourselves while documenting the journey of it all. We want to make it clear that being uLova is not all peaches and cream. There are real struggles that can’t be captured on camera. There is generational trauma passed down to us and we think it’s a normal thing that every kasi kid has to go through. We want to break generational poverty. To us, simply achieving our goals is breaking the stigma. We want to show you what a young black youth winning looks like. We want to give pride to the black youth and make them believe in themselves…

How do you push boundaries of creative expression through the lens?

We don’t want to create unrealistic beauty standards for black kids. We want to show the youth as naturally as possible. We like the raw texture of skin. All the oily textures and uneven skin tones. Brands want to sell you a product, so they give you unrealistic beauty standards in order for you to keep buying their product. Naba Abolova sells you empowerment and self-love. We are trying to tell the black youth that there’s nothing you have to change about yourself in order to achieve your goals.  

What’s next for you?

Up next for us is travelling the world and showing the power of what Naba Abolova can achieve. We want to be featured in galleries all over the world. We want to create music videos, TV ads, movies and curate our own events. Simply put, we just want to be breadwinners of our own households. The Naba Abolova creative collective has 6 members and every one of us has the potential to be great at a lot of different things. Basically, Naba Abolova has limitless possibilities.