On the occasion of pride month (May 2021), Foreign Agent and The Photographic Collective are pleased to present a selection of works by South African photographer and visual artist Nonzuzo Gxekwa.
Gxekwa's work has gathered momentum and praise over the past year through its inclusion in international exhibitions, art fairs, and increasing press coverage making her one of contemporary South African rising artists to watch. Her photographic interest lies in beauty, people's relationships with each other and the poetic in the everyday. In this collection of photographs taken between 2014 and 2019, Gxekwa offers
intimate and powerful depictions of the LGBT+ community in Johannesburg. Despite its politics - South Africa was the first country in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage - hate crime against the LGBT+ community in South Africa has dramatically increased, making the representation and visibility of this community an empowerment and political tool. These seven portraits reflect Gxekwa's personal trajectory and reflections as an image-maker.
In 2015-2016, Gxekwa used to sell clothes in a market in Maboneng, the inner-city art and fashion district of Johannesburg. Young men dressed beautifully would walk down the streets and to the market. Their clothing was different to what she had known. As the artist explains: 'I come from a background where men wear black pants, a white shirt and a blazer, but the men here were wearing colourful pants with blouses and laces. There was something beautiful and exciting about that.'* Gxekwa used her camera to reach out to and engage conversation with the people that moved her by their self-confidence, energy and 'star quality'*. Gxekwa's photographic documentation of the LGBT+ community led her to meet black South African and Zimbabwean artists, designers and performers, some of whom became friends and recurring models in her work.
Inspired by visual activist Zanele Muholi's series Faces & Phases,
Gxekwa's photographic practice alternates between the street and the studio, and more recently embracing play and performance. She works collaboratively with her photographed subjects during the image-making process, deploying various fabrics, textures, colours and make-ups to magnify their poses. A large part Gxekwa embarked on a journey to document the people she encountered and use her photographs as a record for the future.
Most of her work is inspired by the question of 'what makes a man?'*. Drawing elements from the Xhosa culture, such as the white clay used to paint faces of young male initiates in the practice of 'Imbhola', and colourful garments generally considered as 'feminine', Gxekwa plays with traditional cultural influences and gender expressions. Her practice seeks to revisit and reinterpret traditional and binary ways of dressing and presenting oneself to the world. Representing male bodies dressed in skirts, flowery blanket, wedding dresses and glitter, Gxekwa's photographs open doors to exploration and multiple and fluid articulations of the self.
This collection of portraits offers empowered, joyful and celebratory representations of an often mis or under-represented part of society and reflects the importance of granting visibility to a community to which one belongs. In Gxekwa's words: 'We all need communities where we can be ourselves, where we can disrupt things in society that don't work for us, where we can have hope.'* Her interest in identity is intimately expressed in the black and white portrait of a woman presented in the collection. The figure portrayed is Gxekwa's twin sister, sitting and smoking in her bedroom. As the artist explains: 'There was something beautiful with my sister sitting there, naked, smoking. In being naked, you are showing all of you, all of yourself to the world.'* There is something unapologetically beautiful, free and caring about Gxekwa's pictural rendition of the individuals for whom she is rooting.
Find out more about this show on Foreign Agent's Artsy profile.