Vuyo Tlholoe, aka Erem Malo, stumbled into a connection with art at a relatively young age through befriending someone new at school. She describes herself as always being a bit of a loner, so perhaps fate stepped in with this friendship, allowing Vuyo to find her purpose and passion in this way. Her photography work today has evolved into presenting, translating and encouraging human connection. I chatted to Erem Malo to find out more about her addiction to imagery.
Please share the story behind the name Erem Malo? How does this connect to your work?
When I was trying to find a name for my photography business I knew if I didn’t run away from the generic “whatwhat Photography” or “Creative Aperture” I was literally going to drop dead right there. I literally would not be here today if I hadn’t run for my life. Okay, slight exaggeration but hey. After months of what seemed like a billion scribbles I finally came up with Erem Malo.
It is a combination of 2 names, Makololo (Malo) which is my paternal grandmother’s maiden surname and Jeremiah (Erem) which is my older brother’s name. Both passed away before I knew photography would be my thing.
At some point I realized I wanted my business to be like a person which is why Erem Malo sounds like a person’s name. The name gives you absolutely no clue to the background of the person whatsoever. You have no idea about their gender, their race or whether their left foot is bigger than their right. This was purposeful. I dare say this is my little bit of activism. I’m giving light to that fact that my work, as a creative should have nothing to do with the colour of my skin or the space in-between my legs. I’ve had comments on how my work looks like a white male from overseas, how intimidating that is and I promise you the expressions I get when little old me walks into the room always says it’s worth it. Essentially I’m giving people the opportunity to change their perceptions on the industry thinking that anyone outside white and male can’t produce quality.
This connects with my work because I feel like my view on photography comes from whom I am regardless of the colour of my skin or my gender. I’m just being myself. It just so happens that it doesn’t align with what others think I look like.
How did you get into photography?
The way I got into photography was a coincidence in the smaller scheme of things, but in the larger scheme of things everything happens for a reason.. After matric I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life outside art, and going into fine art didn’t interest me nearly enough. I convinced my folks that a gap year was going to be great and that’s when I came across Vega. They had a degree called Creative Brand Communications at the time. My marks forced me to take their higher certificate in photography before I could qualify to do the degree. Fast forward to my 2nd year in that degree course, and I was unhappy. I just wanted to go back to photography. I eventually had the courage to give that course the peace sign and went back to Vega’s Advanced Certificate in Photography. I haven’t looked back since.
How has your work evolved aesthetically and conceptually?
I was so whack at the beginning of my first year in photography. I’ve gone from being about pretty pictures at the beginning of my journey to realizing the importance of eye communication in portraiture and bleeding that into fashion photography to now wanting to say an actual message with everything combined. I’ve changed somewhat this year. The things I’ve been working on have been provocative in some way. When I start releasing the work in its entirety I already know there will be a good number of people who do not agree with the message I’m sending out at all.
Which of your works do you hold most dear to your heart and why?
The stuff I’ve been working on this year I believe will have a comfy seat in my heart for a long time. There’s a snippet of one of them on my Instagram, a self-portrait with white stuff on my face.
This year has been a year of transformation for me as I’ve chosen to start moving away from good looking work and move into work that not only looks great but has a message that bites you. I’ve also chosen to cut down on my usual fashion work and focus more on my art, to let go of my crutches one step at a time. Going on 10day silent meditation retreat during April really help me get my mind moving.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on 2 bodies of work. One which I’ve given a preview of on my Instagram titled ‘White Face Artifact’. I might change the title, who knows. This work gives my perspective on the largely debated Black Face. The other body of work is still a secret.
I’m planning on exhibiting and selling prints from one of these bodies of work in the later months of the year. People will have to follow my Instagram for details.
Anything else you would like to mention about yourself or your work?
What I aim for with my work is that authentic human connection. That type of connection that doesn’t allow you to look away no matter how hard you want to. I’d love for people to come to my exhibitions and just stand staring, thinking, feeling a particular image for its subject matter, the mood the eyes of the person photographed, the concept, whatever it is that pokes their fancy in that way (this isn’t the time to tickle fancies anymore).
It’s all a journey. At some point in my life I see myself mixing so many art mediums into one and I honestly can’t wait to become the person that creates that because right now I’m not ready. I’m still hooked on photography.