Design Indaba 2017 alumni Thandiwe Msebenzi discusses the female agency that fuels her photography

Nataal discovered the work of Thandiwe Msebenzi at Design Indaba 2017. On stage, the photographic artist opened her powerful talk by sharing her personal experiences of sexual harassment on the streets of Cape Town, and the patriarchal silencing the women in her family have always faced in both public and private spaces. These traumas have fuelled her current body of work, Awundiboni – You Don’t See Me. “In our culture, abuse is constant but we are ashamed and turn our heads,” Msebenzi tells Nataal after her presentation. “It’s very hard to talk about it – yo that’s hectic - but it’s important that we express ourselves as women and as oppressed bodies.”


Ranging from self portraits with a man’s blazer to a still life of the arsenal of rudimentary weapons her grandmother keeps under her bed at night for fear of an intruder, Msebenzi images resonate with pain and vulnerability while also being an unashamed act of resistance. “These are very personal images of self and of home. Every photograph has a story behind it about my family but they can also resonate with all women.”

Born in 1991 in Nyanga, Cape Town, Msebenzi studied fine art at Michaelis School of Art – where her subjects ranged from Brenda Fassi to young, suited Xhosa men - and graduated in 2014. She was the recipient of the Tierney fellowship award that same year and since then has exhibited widely across South Africa, finishing off 2016 with a residency at the Cape Town School of Photography. Having experienced first hand the Fees Must Fall protests, this year she also joined the iQhiya collective of 11 black female South African artists exhibiting together at Cape Town’s AVA Gallery. “Those protests gave us the voice we’ve actually always had, and a platform for our peers to speak about intersectionality and gender. It’s a big deal.”

Portrait photography Kent Andreasen

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Published on 17/05/2017