Photographer and art director Thina Olona Zibi feels that creative imagery is something that has always been a part of her world. Having picked up a camera only 6 years ago, she has become well-known for how she captures various aspects that make up life in South Africa. “I was really drawn to styling, interesting personalities and everyday individuals on the street,” Thina explains. Her new exhibition ‘Andindedwa’ now showing at Agog Gallery in Maboneng speaks to her exploration of the human body in conjunction with ancestral acknowledgement and cultural rediscovery.
How do you like to describe your artistic practice?
I tend to work organically. I struggle with structure. When it comes it comes. I like going out there and finding something to shoot. However currently I have started creating sets. My work has been described as “honest” or “pure”. It’s important that an image moves me. That when I decide if it is worth sharing.
What are some of the themes you enjoy exploring?
I gravitate a lot towards face and portraiture and the human body. There is something alluring about the human body and the energy an its existence. People are a big influence in my work. There is something immeasurable and timeless about the human connection in photography.
Please share more about the concept behind this photo series as well as the name you chose for the series. You mentioned that you are looking at African spirituality. Which aspects are you looking at specifically and how have you executed this in these works?
‘Andindedwa’ is Xhosa term meaning ‘I am not alone’, and in this particular context it acknowledges the spiritual realm that is among us. This photo series aims to relook the idea of African spirituality and reconsiders it as a viable practice for understanding where and how we are embedded in this world. In some way, I’m confronting the existence of this other world, parallel or protruding into, ours. My confrontation is coloured with my own surprise and confusion at the discovery of this world as I examine, and perhaps try to reclaim, a spiritual identity and practice that is lost with many contemporary Africans.
The images borrow cues from “ukuhlanjwa” (spiritual cleansing). During this practice one is usually asked by their traditional healer to slaughter chickens in order to relieve themselves from malicious energy or to appease the ancestors. The photography is not a linear translation of how this is done exactly. The imagery plays with chicken body parts, blood, the bath (deliberately a modern design) to create a stylised, metaphorical rendition of ukuhlanjwa. No literal interpretation is intended.
The subjects are searching – at times painfully, at others defiantly and admirably, even desperately – for relief and fulfilment. The viewer may detect a certain kind of distance in the subjects, not unlike the photographic studies of members of various subcultures, seeking both separation from a majority identity and inclusion into a new identity to which they can relate. The intangible obscurity in the pieces are the result of being engaged in ritual and occupying a liminal space. A rebirth is suggested, pertaining to a personal spiritual and cultural rediscovery and reconnection.
You also mentioned that on the 9th of August there were installations by Tshego Khutsoane on show at the gallery. How will these tie in with your photographs?
Tshego has added a more dynamic and tactile spiritual element to the show. Many people see ancestral acknowledgement as a dark, taboo practice that makes many feel uncomfortable. It’s that it is considered unparalleled to Christianity. The story of the exhibition is fighting that belief. Acknowledging ancestors has brought light, comfort and better understanding of self for many individuals. The installation Tshego has incorporated bring forward light, warmth, comfort, cleanliness as well as a ancestral space that involves holiness. This is brought through with lit candles, flowing white fabric and sound installation of a woman singing popular African hymns that an average individual can relate to. The images focus a lot on the stages I went through when I understanding my relationship with my ancestor, these are further translates by a performance by Ayanda Seoka, who brings these stages through life by taking the viewer through a journey throughout the exhibition.
The show will be taking place at Agog Gallery, Maboneng until the 4th of September.