Friday

The African way of life in focus

Jessica Hunkin

Whether fragile, charming, seductive or frightening, Themba Mbuyisa's photographs explore the various and contrasting emotions of the human condition.

'Suits and Ties' by Themba Mbuyisa.

Themba Mbuyisa’s approach to photography is all about uplifting the African way of life.

“From the rural areas to the cities,” he says. “I’d like to see our land and the people who inhabit it gaining more recognition that leads to positive development. I want the streets of Johannesburg to be like New York – the African way. A place where everyone has the potential to be something, regardless of their social status.”

Mbuyisa’s interest in photography began when he took a gap year while doing a BSc degree in computer science at the University of the Witwatersrand. He enrolled in a foundation course at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg and, although he always had an eye for detail, he had never previously thought that he could express this through photography.

Street style
As a fashion enthusiast from Soweto, his keen interest in street style formed a natural starting point for his photographic journey. And with a habit of seeing stories everywhere he goes, his work naturally progressed to include a more documentary approach. 

“Photography is my tool to tell stories that people haven’t heard before.”

Mbuyisa, who is driven to create photos with an emotional impact, is bemused that his work has received far greater recognition in foreign countries than it has in South Africa. This happened when he developed an online portfolio with Vogue Italia, and when he was featured in a documentary by ARD German TV.

“I honestly would have loved for all of these first-time experiences to happen in my country, or [for them to] have been provided for by the South African creative industry.”


Themba Mbuyisa’s ‘Distant Relatives 3’.

Another first for him that took place abroad was his experience of an artist’s residency in São Paulo, Brazil. He applied for the residency with a series of photographs titled Distant Relatives, which were taken in KwaZulu-Natal.

“Through this project I was raising questions about what happens when the breadwinner of a family has to leave home because they are only able to find job opportunities in the city.”

Personal exploration
The body of work Mbuyisa created during the residency, the Most Isolated Person in the World, was a much more personal exploration of what it felt like to be so far away from home.

Whether fragile, charming, seductive or frightening, the pictures explore the various and contrasting emotions of the human condition.

The landscapes that feature in the works evoked memories for Mbuyisa, helping him to make connections between Brazil and South Africa.

Going forward, he plans to pursue his studies in the realms of design, photography and art.

Currently part of the Lumia Stories project with Nokia UK, Mbuyisa also hopes to exhibit some of his projects documenting home-grown fashion in South Africa in the near future.

As his exciting journey attests, one thing is certain: he will continue to spread his photographic stories far and wide.

For more information, visit: memoryquai.tumblr.com.

This article is adapted from an interview with the artist that appeared on the creative showcase site 10and5.com.

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