Thandiwe Msebenzi // an interrogation of the private as an unsafe space

“I don’t have the privilege to take a break from being a womxn. By creating artwork that speaks to these issues I am able to heal and tackle them head on and in the process hopefully, challenge the oppressive system we all exist in.” – from an interview with Design Indaba.

Thandiwe Msebenzi, a photographer and member of all-female art collective iQhiya, uses her chosen medium as a way to communicate her own experiences as a womxn, and to connect this to larger conversations about how womxn are treated, and how they are forced to navigate space. Through unpacking her own experiences she is able to challenge patriarchal notions of womxn’s bodies as objects of desire and control. Msebenzi has mentioned that this idea of womxn existing as items to be consumed by eyes and hands, and her own encounters with the feelings that come along with this, form the foundation for concepts she explores through her lens.

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The themes that she addresses relate to the deliberate silencing of female voices, and unboxing the presence of femme beings within physical, political and cultural spaces. Deeping the engagement with these themes is how she looks at trauma and violence. Holding these different elements together in her work is the strength that womxn have individually and collectively. In her work this strength is presented as a site of defiance, healing and reconstructing problematic understandings of womanhood, especially in relation to problematic notions of manhood.

Often using herself as her own subject, one is able to see how her work is a direct reflection of her own experience. However, it also allows for the recognition of oneself as a womxn, particularly a womxn of colour, within one of the layers she lays out in her work. The potency of her message comes from her interrogation of private spaces – spaces that are assumed to be the containers of safety and comfort. One of the ways she has represented this is by photographing weapons that she has placed on beds.

Referring to the meaning of this, Msebenzi  expressed that, “sometimes you need something that transcends certain meaning. Weapons mean violence. Put them on a bed, something quite soft and something quite vulnerable. Juxtapose them and that is a story of two things that should not co-exist but they do because that is the story of someone’s life.”

Thinking about this within the context of 16 Days of Activism, and the fact that most of this violence is performed by men that are known to their victims, the relevance of Msebenzi’s work echoes continuously.



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