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collage by Lex Trickett

A reflection on representation: musings on black girl magic

In the late 90s, Arts & Culture was phased in as a subject in South African primary schools. My teacher was Afrikaans, had a 9 carat gold nail attached by a gossamer chain to a ring resting on her pinky finger and taught me to make biltong and use acrylic paints. Her central thesis was that society operates as a pendulum, swinging from extremes.

Before anything further is said, I must acknowledge the delight that comes with no longer being the token POC, lone nerd, passionate fangirl, avid consumer etc. etc. ad infintum.

REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

Not just of the fairer sex, from The Dark Continent, or of a queer dispensation.

The ways of being in this world are infinite.

All must be flexed.

While the spotlight shines on some of them from time to time, refracting into their cultures and sub-cultures, crews and niches, cultural capital is a roaring economy. We know which styles get the most shine and trendy appropriation is usually a dead giveaway of the marketability of oppressive underrepresentation.

On the day that this was shot, I was chuckling with Dope Saint Jude and Kyla Phil about how cute it was that the photographers had expressed how relevant black girl magic is right now.

Relevant: closely connected or appropriate to the matter in hand.

Trendy: characteristic of, influenced by, or representing a current popular style.

There is a big difference.

Nonetheless, the matters at hand for the women in this feature may very well be easily aligned with the styles of Russian ravers, Senegalese surfers, WASPs, or Taiwanese gender benders. And then again, maybe not.

For instance, Marge Linderoth is a sweetheart angelface hairstylist; Purity is the lead singer of indie-dream-wave/horror-funk band, The Pranks. Their lived experiences might be chalk and cheese, but maybe they’ve worked, lived, played together.

Kalo Canterbury aka k.dollahz aka international playboy/daddy/prettyboy, and Jana Babez Terblanche (Britney Spears meets Athi-Patra Ruga) are both crushing gender binaries through subverting heteronormative ideals. One does it via performance art; the other as part of the streetwear sex gods fashioning an anomalous support for local products out of discontent with the disconnect between the mainstream ‘fashion industry’ and on the ground street style in Cape Town.

And while actress and filmmaker Kyla Phil deposes of discourse despots on the daily in her hard-earned capacity as a flourishing (read: woke) thought-leader, LadySkollie, the fine (AF) artist pioneers paths in both the creative industry and in understanding of contemporary sexual experiences.

Some time back I wrote about rapper Dope Saint Jude’s visceral style of parading and parodying positions of power – all of these individuals are doing that in their respective life-worlds, and it has got everything and nothing to do with being African women.

This gathering of individuals is in no way a statistically accurate representative of women in Africa, but it is an interesting sample, intoxicating in its authenticity. Its like a flip on The Spice Girls, but with more people because duh, T.I.A.

So it goes without saying, that defying prescribed societal roles in a country like South Africa – one of the most diverse in the world, with four broad racial groupings, 11 official languages, countless cultural identities and ethnic bonds, a huge gap between rich and poor and growing communities of migrants and immigrants – is somewhat superfluous.

The experience of being an African woman is ineffable, intersectional, liminal, and oh so lit.

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