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The Portfolio: Lebogang Tlhako

Fashion is all about collage; a bringing together of things that were separate. I guess memory work is, too. 

As a child I used to love cutting out pictures from magazines. I always found that therapeutic. I collect my family’s photo albums and used to own a music book back in the day that had cut-outs of things I liked.

My older sister’s album had cut-outs of images of flowers and I used to love browsing through it. It was as if she had intentionally placed the colours of the flowers in alignment with the colours of the clothes in the images. 

Another influence was my mum’s photo album and the textiles in her wardrobe. I follow the lead of my memories — and collage brings them together.

At home, we used to have a brown oak room divider with glass doors and a little floral design. We used it to store special homeware. It had a table-like surface, on which my mom placed embroidered mats with floral patterns.

During the week we were at school, so my mother did the chores. On weekends it was our turn. I remember how, after varnishing the oak room divider, we had to place the mats right in the centre, ’cos if we didn’t do it that way, we’d get a lecture of how we hadn’t cleaned properly. 

We had like three different floral-patterned mats and they all had to be placed neatly in the centre. My mom would reprimand us if we used them as “tea mats”, ’cos that would leave stains on them. 

So, without being aware, collage was there all the time, art was there all the time — and memory work places them next to each other.

In this series, I explore making up something that isn’t there. It’s like playing house in your head. That’s the thing about art, right? Nothing is in order: it’s all floating and upside down. This is where I feel at peace.

The girls represent the young me — Sibancane. They remind me so much of myself when I was carefree and full of life. My mom represents the old — Sibadala. The series is also a way to connect to my mom’s youth.

She comes from the generation who lived through the difficult time of struggle, but she enjoyed her life. I like to bring to life the fun and joy in the way she dressed, linking that to the familiarity of my current surroundings. This informs my compositional style, I suppose.

If you ask my mum how she came to decide on the arrangement of the embroidery on the oak room divider, what would she say? I guess her response would be mine, too. 

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Lebogang Tlhako
Lebogang Tlhako is a photographer who uses collage to explore making up something that isn’t there

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