I interviewed Silondile Jali aka Slomokazi about her project #Nonke, which she describes as art fashion. Collaborating with photographer Paul Shiakallis, as well as her brother Siviwe Jali, Desire Marea, Fela Gucci, Mantis Shabane, Mamauba Mobi Malahlela and Assent Lesego Mnewe as models, this work is a celebration of self.
Tell our readers about the title for your project, #Nonke
DJ Euphonik went on a twitter rant at some stage last year, where he called out certain individuals “on their shit” so to speak. As expected the twitter world responded and the whole saga ended when he said #Nonke (everyone) – which became quite huge. Since then the term #Nonke has been used in a number of ways, initially to insult everyone but later it was used in a more positive way, eg. Nibahle #Nonke. This project is titled #Nonke, which on the surface looks like it’s just a reference to the twitter storm that happened last year but it’s also completely unrelated to that, and more in tune with how people started using the hashtag in the positive sense, eg. Nginithanda #Nonke.
Tell our readers about the concept for the work?
Around the time I needed to present my shoot concept to Paul, I was on social media (obviously) when I saw a post from a friend. It asked, “if you met yourself at a social gathering, would you hang with yourself?”. Such a simple question. So many layered answers. Initially I thought ‘no’…then ‘maybe’…but the more I thought about it, the more I came to see myself from a view outside myself. And I actually liked what I saw. Which then inspired me to celebrate myself, but to do that without being vain. The challenge for me, was not to be in front of the camera – but to take the pieces of who I am and, like a mirror, to reflect them back to me.
What made you decide to explore self-love/self-recognition/self-growth through a “self-squad”?
We’re all familiar with the idea of “me, myself & I” and if you think about it, that is your personal team – your self-squad. No one is one-dimensional. We’re all puzzles. Once I began dissecting the pieces of my puzzle, and digging deeper into the different parts of who I am, it became clear that we all have bonds with our environment, our sexuality, our history, community and culture. Regardless of whether your puzzle is complete, in progress or yet to start – we have these elements and our future self is essentially molded by how we interact, react and feel with these pieces to build a new image.
So having decided that I wanted this shoot to be about me, but not actually feature me. I had to find an alternative way to “cast” myself. This meant I had to break myself up into different parts and assign a face to represent and capture each part of me.
Tell our readers about some of the locations you chose for this project.
At the time of the shoot, I was still living in Joburg inner city, so it was my everyday environment and reality. I wanted to capture the textures, colours and backgrounds that I saw every day. I didn’t want pristine and polished backgrounds. All the locations from downtown Joburg and the rooftop in Hillbrow have a story of misunderstood beauty – which is also a sub theme in this work. Hillbrow also has what I think are some of the best views of Joburg, and the rooftop worked so well with my theme of eZulwini.
The locations basically served as the backdrop to the Story of Slo – which only dawned on me later that they’re also a metaphor for those hidden, unknown and less pretty sides of me. The environment became both a mirror and a rebellion to say that beauty does exist and thrive outside the set standards and boxes of style.
Explain the look and feel you wanted to create in this shoot.
For the styling, I curated all the looks directly from my wardrobe as an extension of the self theme. Strangely enough, I didn’t have a particular look in mind. I really allowed myself to work on feeling. I set out to match each set to different aspects of me – from my ego, my realisations and ambitions to tell the story of my joys, my struggles, my thoughts and even hints at my circumstances.
Tell our readers about the titles for the images.
[For the images titled ‘iGolide’] The rich brown and golden hues, tell the story of wealth in melanin, which reminds me that “ngiyiGolide lom’hlaba” (I am the gold of the earth).
The denim look is dedicated to my ultra self, which is aptly named ‘Zifo Zonke’ – which loosely means “the cure of all ailments” and comes from traditional muthi concoctions that (claim the ability to) cure you of anything and everything. For me, this is basically the fashion equivalent of wearing white and denim to any and every occasion. Interestingly enough, the first denim brand that I knew of happened to share a name with my grandmother, and without realizing, the styling began to connect a greater story of self from my roots to my ego.
I’ve been told that red wine is a ‘major food group’ in my diet – so it was only fitting that I kitted out the talent in the colours of red grapes against leather as a play on both the textures, odours and flavours of the Goddess’s drink. The title is a play on the similarity of colours between wine and blood but low key also a shout out to friends that have become family. [For images titled Igazi namaglebhisi].
And then for last look I wanted to touch on the idea of where and how culture can contrast and compliment religion all at once. The rooftop location for this ensemble only made the concept stronger, as I titled the look ‘Ezulwini’, which is heaven in isiZulu – but can also (very loosely) be interpreted as ‘Place of the Zulus”. This is a heavy reference to the fact that I was raised in a family that carries very strong cultural beliefs alongside Christian beliefs.
Tell our readers more about the abstract that you wrote for this work. Are there any specific parts of the abstract you would like to draw our attention to?
I wrote an abstract for this work to try capture and express my intentions and thoughts behind the shoot. I think the part I’d most like to highlight is that “We’re all puzzles, some complete, some in progress, others yet to start but we all have bonds with our environment, our sexuality, our history, community and culture” because right now we live in the age of content and for the time first time in most of our lives , we’re finally seeing people like us flourish and shine in terms of representation. But as similar as we may be, everyone is different and it’s important to appreciate your individual journey and process. This leads me to another part I want to draw attention to because it’s as self-explanatory as it is motivational; “I started off struggling with myself image, then went on to fighting and trying to change who I am before I realised being a version of someone else isn’t an option on the menu…Eventually, I came to understand that being fully me was a beautiful thing and this gave me the strength of Samson from within”.
All of the images and the abstract will be up on Slomokazi’s blog soon. Be sure to check her out on Instagram to keep up to date with her work.