/ 27 November 2020

The Portfolio: Antony Kaminju

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For the photographer, the Roving Bantu Kitchen, which Sisifso Ntuli co-founded, reminded him of Fela Kuti’s Shrine, hence the decision to title the image the Roving Bantu Shrine. (Photo: Antony Kaminju)

Under the theme “lockdown diary, a photographic journey”, I have been calling on a few friends to find out how they are coping and documenting the interaction. 

Curiosity led me to Sifiso Ntuli, co-owner of the Roving Bantu Kitchen in Brixton. Before lockdown, the Roving Bantu was a vibrant meeting place that offered live music, great food and was a place that many people regarded as home. 

During lockdown, Ntuli was part of a soup kitchen that was started to provide those in need with a cooked lunch. After the reopening of businesses, Ntuli has had to move his restaurant from Caroline Street to his home in Brixton. He said Covid-19 made him reflect on a new business model. “Although I have had to close, I’m not shutting down!” he said. The venue will now accommodate small groups of about 20 people for a Roving Bantu dining experience. 

On the day that the image was made, Ntuli was busy planning for the soup kitchen. The city was very quiet, like a ghost city. When I went in, he was with one of his assistants, just outside at the back. 

He was in a meditative kind of mood. We talked quite a bit. I took some images outside, and then I asked him what his favourite spot was in the place. He pointed to where he is seated in the photograph. Even without him, it is quite a space. There is a journey there; a story of a man who has accumulated all those experiences and tried to put them together. You can tell what kind of a business he was running. As much as it was a business, it was more of a lifestyle, an experience. 

When I look at it, it reminds me more of Fela Kuti’s Shrine in Nigeria, where food met music and there was a celebration of Africa and what Africans can do together. 

Ntuli told me Covid-19 came to disrupt so that change can happen. “It’s a revolutionary moment and, through food, ours is to be the catalyst.” I’m not sure what he meant by that, but the soup kitchen was an act of deep love for his community. Ntuli lamented that ubuntu has been suppressed, and asked, “If during lockdown people are supposed to stay home, how do you stay home without a home?” I think that photograph captures the sense that change is ahead, and a new way of doing business is inevitable. Ntuli was in a solitary mood, reflecting, looking back on his journey and what role he can play once the pandemic passes. 

On a Wednesday evening, weeks after, I went to him with my laptop to show him the images I took. This particular image made him cry. He said he’s never seen an image capture his soul like that. He was taken aback. 

For a moment he was able to gaze at who he is, where he is coming from and where he is going to. There are many sentimental moments on that wall; I can only imagine how hurtful it must have been to take everything down. 

To see more of Kaminju’s work, visit: photohadithi.org