HER // a project portraying Coloured women in an honest and vulnerable way

Coloured identity has a complicated national, provincial and personal history (or histories) in South Africa. Mikhailia Petersen and Gemma Shepherd teamed up with Jabu Newman, Jahaan van der Ross, Qiniso van Damme, Roxanne Louw, Lara Simons and Shannon van Wyk to unpack this by focusing specifically on the representation of Coloured women in the project ‘HER’.

Mikhailia explained that the title choice for the series came instinctively. “We want it be a series that a magnitude of Coloured women can connect to,” she adds.

The foundation for the project comes from their emphasis on the importance of Coloured women occupying positions where they are able to define and perpetuate their own narratives and tell authentic, honest stories about their lived experiences. “Coloured women need not only the validation of seeing ourselves reflected in the physical form, we also need our lived experience to be acknowledged and reflected in the stories that the Fashion Industry tells. Only then will we truly have a seat at the table.” By including women who are involved in the creative industry, both behind and in front of the camera, this project implicitly invites multiple players to reflect on their message.

The team hope that the series will encourage further discussions about telling experience-oriented, first person stories, as well as widen an interrogation of the fashion industry and engender a spirit of togetherness.

‘Her’ aims to portray Coloured women in an honest and vulnerable way. This is in contrast to the played out, hardened stereotype that is often placed on Coloured women. The stereotype that villainizes our grit and calls it vulgarity, because it makes us easier to discount.

The above is a quote from the text by Shannon van Wyk that accompanies the series of photographs. This text gives the viewer context, and avoids it being interpreted as a fashion editorial. It communicates the fact that there are many ways in which people understand their Coloured identity, and that the ownership and reflexive unpacking of this identification needs to be in the hands of those who embody it. It also rejects the caricatures and negative associations that Coloured people have been forced to carry, specifically Coloured women.


The images present the duality of strength and vulnerability with the intention of broadening the narratives of Coloured woman.

“We understand that this is just a beginning and that there are so many more stories and voices that Coloured Women identify with that deserve a platform. Stories that need to be made and heard because they validate Coloured identity and the multitude of trials that Coloured women have had to go through and continue to triumph over.”


Concept: Mikhailia Petersen and Gemma Shepherd

Producer & Stylist: Mikhailia Petersen

Photographer: Gemma Shepherd

Models: Jabu Newman, Jahaan van der Ross, Qiniso van Damme, Roxanne Louw and Lara Simons

Copy: Shannon van Wyk

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