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Photography by Aart Verrips

Rharha Nembhard; NoirWave’s visual powerhouse

The Drone Goddess is on a mission to live her truth, using her gifts to obliterate boundaries and silence stereotypes. The curator of  NoirWave, one RhaRha Nembhard, is home in South Africa on a break from her Masters degree in museums, galleries and contemporary culture. But to her a break includes so much work and travel that it reveals her drive and passion to be a working artist and contribute to the world with a progressive and powerful message. I had the opportunity to talk to her about everything from her inspirations to her upcoming projects but the crux of it is clear; her work engenders transformation and changes perceptions within institutions, art and culture to represent Africa and Africans as we are and have been. She formed NoirWave with her partner Yannick Illunga a.k.a Petite Noir and their message is finally being embraced in SA, with a SAMA nod for Yannick and both of them featured on the cover of Sunday Times Lifestyle, NoirWave is finally growing roots on homeground.

NoirWave is telling the story of black glory through art. The hermetic principles and traditional themes referenced in the imagery of the movement are balanced by the perspective that the world is comprised of billions of people and we influence one another through travel and now the internet. ‘We are all hybrids of some shape or form’, Rharha says in reference to her broad perspective on identity and culture. Rharha was born in Jamaica, raised in SA and did her undergraduate degree in Bangkok. Having lived in Africa, Asia and Europe, she has come into contact with the world’s major civillisations and is able to draw touches of them into what she does. Pulling seemingly disparate pieces together to tell a new story about the millenial age and represent blackness within the context of futurism, high art and global connectivity.

Traditional broadcast and mass media misrepresent the black experience. But the 21st century has brought us black superheroes, a black American President and rap in African accents. The Winds of Change are blowing and the anachronisms around Africa are being swept away. Rharha travels the continent extensively and her work references all the beauty and richness she comes into contact with. Yet, the messages proliferated about living here are often pervaded by negative sentiment, and while much of Africa’s reality is informed by conflict and the effects of imperialism this is also a vibrant, abundant place and our role within the global space is not that which is defined by the West but rather as the founders of civillisation and forebearers of modern science, astronomy, literature and religion.Colonialism obliterated African history and impressed falsehoods upon Africa of barbarism and ignorance.  As movements like NoirWave gain traction, new stories about Africans by Africans gain prominence; we are travellers and artists and activists and curators and writers and scientists, our brilliance is beginning to be liberated from the imperial gaze as we come to understand all that our continent and people contribute to the world.  Africa’s resources have been used to build so many major cities; London and Paris were nothing before brutally snatching Africa’s wealth and America would be a wasteland without the stolen labour of slavery. These are facts, and we are here to rewrite the story about this continent and its children.

The substance of NoirWave; the looks, the visual story is the vision of Rharha; her construction of imagery translates cultural knowledge into a modern landscape. Her collaboration with Lina Viktor and Petite Noir produced the striking imagery for La Vie est Belle and her art direction is behind the stunning videos for the album as well. Their shared objective of representing and bringing reverence and regalia to African experiences has produced stunning, emotionally stirring art. The imagery the produced for La Vie Est Belle projects the power and poetry in blackness and the abundant beauty of Africa.

Rharha, the mother of all that is NoirWave, curates the movement with a cohesive and consistent message; Black is beautiful, deal with it.

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