Ícaro Fortes introduces AFRICA IS NOW to a freelance photographer whose arresting black-and-white images have a quiet, meditative quality that adeptly draws in the viewer. The 24-year-old Magno Daniel is based in Luanda, Angola, and also works as a creative director for visual projects and as a curator.
Daniel, as he’s known to acquaintances and artists, has been working in the world of photography for the past four years and has travelled to several cities around the world, capturing them via the lens of an outsider. He’s since returned to his hometown, where he has been exploring his chosen medium in its various forms: lifestyle, portraiture, fashion and urban-scapes.
At the end of 2018, Daniel was featured in issue 3 of DREAM, a Spanish magazine which is described as ‘a visual platform that deals with the world of matter and explores the connections between objects and their owners’. He worked on a series of photographs: Amulets. Daniel also curated and produced his first solo exhibition at Elinga Teatro entitled Eudaimonia (Greek for ‘human flourishing or prosperity’; ‘blessedness’).
At the beginning of 2019, he was given the opportunity to curate an exhibition with Angolan artist Muamby Wassaky. The exhibition, entitled Prosopagnosia, was by Angolan artist and filmmaker Wyssolela Moreira, who’s currently based in Toronto, Canada. Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, is a cognitive disorder in which the ability to recognise familiar faces, as well as your own (self-recognition), is impaired. The artist says that she created this project ‘to help and heal the Angolan society and many other African nations from their social-prosopagnosia’.
The photographer’s eyes are always aware of his surroundings and his passion for photography is fed by the flow of life.
Daniel says he shoots mostly in black and white with a digital camera. Lately, he has been spending his time capturing life in Luanda. His images are a reminder of the frailty of life and the harshness of city living. The photographer’s eyes are always aware of his surroundings and his passion for photography is fed by the flow of life.
In terms of the unmistakable ease and intimacy captured in his portraiture, Daniel says: ‘The intimacy with my subjects often starts with some research on the proposed concept and the result we intend to achieve. When shooting people, I further my knowledge and understanding of what can be done for that specific project, making it flow spontaneously. However, when directing the photoshoot, capturing an individual’s personality can be challenging and it requires communication skills and planning to make the concept and subject as intimate as possible.’
He also loves to play with negative space. So where does the beauty lie for Daniel in these quiet spaces? He says that negative space is an effective way to simplify his search for beauty. ‘Whether it is fashion, portraits, street photography or landscape, negative space attracts my viewers and me to engage in the subject from a distance, creating a relationship between the surroundings of the subject and the concept or feeling behind it. It makes my work more relatable to some people because it does not disturb them by throwing too much information at them to process. It rather selects a point making the viewer’s eyes move throughout the scene while reading the photograph in perfect harmony.’
Check out his website here.
Born in Soweto in 1986, Mohau Modisakeng’s work’s ‘responds to the history of the black body within the (South) African context’ – the violence of the apartheid era and the early 1990s. While his work does not depict graphic images of violence, the imagery he creates through film, large-scale photographic prints, installations and performances have been described as powerful yet poetic invocations.
‘I remember the smell of teargas and burning tyres; plumes of dust and smoke signalling what could have been the beginning stages of a bloody civil war.’
Tell us a bit about your upbringing and the moment you decided to study Fine Art at the Michaelis School of Fine Art.
I was born and raised in Soweto. At the time my parents, not unlike millions of other black South Africans, did not have a house of their own in Johannesburg, so they erected a shack in an informal settlement known as Kwa Mshengu, which was an enclave of Zulu migrant workers.
This was during the political turmoil of the 80s when the racist white government was at loggerheads with black political organisations. Towards the late 80s and early 90s, Soweto was on fire as black political parties were being pinned against each other in an effort to derail the impending collapse of apartheid. It was termed ‘black-on-black violence’, which fuelled the manufactured feud between the African National Congress and the predominantly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party.
I saw it all play out right in front of me as I was coming into myself as a child. I saw houses and cars being set alight, community leaders and political opponents gunned down in daylight, blood-hungry mobs with red bandanas and armbands brandishing axes, spears, knobkerries and sjamboks. I remember the smell of teargas and burning tyres; plumes of dust and smoke signalling what could have been the beginning stages of bloody civil war.
Fast forward to 2004 when I was 17… I was fortunate enough to be part of a small group of learners from our school in Soweto to be invited to partake in an exchange programme with a school in the UK. For the first time I travelled outside the borders of South Africa and was thrust into a world of art museums, art classes, private collections, and a general enthusiasm for all things art – something I had never before witnessed. On my return from this trip, I enrolled in the fine art programmes at the University of Cape Town and at the University of the Witwatersrand. The following year I was accepted for both programmes, but I was subsequently awarded a scholarship to go to the Michaelis School of Fine Art.
When did you decide to tackle the topics of race, the militarisation of society and post-apartheid South Africa?
I think it was during my second year of undergraduate studies at Michaelis that I wanted to understand myself and the country I belonged to better. So when we finally did a self-motivated project, I elected to focus mine on my own lived experiences with trauma; on growing up in the townships during the social anxiety and unrest of the dying years of apartheid.
The result was a body of work that not only placed my personal story at the centre of my visual narrative but the project also reflected on the tragic passing of my eldest brother, the political education of my second brother in the form of conversations, poems and writings, and my mother’s spirituality.
This is when I realised that the personal is very political in my country.
‘I realised that the personal is very political in my country.’
Your work has been exhibited at a number of galleries locally and internationally, tell us what are your thoughts and feelings during the exhibition process?
There is a lot that goes through my mind before I even exhibit the work, but when the works are finally hanging and the exhibition opens to the public, I no longer have control over what the work communicates. At that point it is up to the audience to engage the work.
I enjoy being able to see people’s emotions written on their faces during an exhibition. I also enjoy the conversations around certain aspects of the work. The audience always brings another dimension to the reading of the work. They participate in the creation of meaning.
What has been the most memorable response to your work?
It was in 2014 when my mother first visited my solo exhibition Ditaola. I think this was the first time she had seen my work outside of the reproductions of my photography in publications she had seen.
How important is the role that material plays in your creations and to what extent does it encourage or augment the narrative?
The work I make acts as a mirror to a world that is inhabited by different bodies. In my photographic work for instance, these bodies are as much material as the landscapes, backdrops, and the props that may be framed in the artwork. In a self-reflective photographic practice where the body is at the centre of the image and the narrative, such as in most of my work, materiality becomes the vehicle through which meaning can be inscribed and retained. Material can also work to prescribe/describe a particular context in an artwork.
In most cases the material is often the narrative.
‘The audience always brings another dimension to the reading of the work. They participate in the creation of meaning.’
How important, do you think, is it for an artist to express the conditions of the society they live in?
I think that the role of the artist is to act as a mirror to themselves and their environment. The artist’s work ought to reflect the realities of the lived experiences of the people from which they come.
Perhaps this is important now more than ever in a time when globalism has become synonymous with Western domination in culture, politics and economics around the world. Globalism has engendered a homogeneity that seems to favour Eurocentrism, while also flattening our understanding and experiences of the world.
So now more than ever it is important to have individual voices that speak on behalf of or from the perspective of a diversity of backgrounds. As Africans we come from a history that survived colonial erasure and dismemberment and so our work should indeed express the particular conditions of African society, which are unique to our context.
If globalism speaks for centralism, the artist working from the African geopolitical context should speak for the margins as a testament to the fact that that is where the world has positioned him or her… through slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonial capitalism.
‘As Africans we come from a history that survived colonial erasure and dismemberment and so our work should indeed express the particular conditions of African society, which are unique to our context.’
Do you think the wound afflicted on (South) Africa by colonialism and apartheid will ever heal?
I think healing should be preceded by the acknowledgement of the trauma and the violence caused by colonialism across Africa. There needs to be an overt effort to outline how such a toxic past has affected and continues to affect our society.
In South Africa the oppressor lives side by side with his victim and life carries on unchanged under the veil of post-apartheid rainbow nationalism. The cosmetic changes of early democracy in South Africa are failing to conceal the growing mass inequality between whites and blacks, the under-education of black youth, the record-breaking crime rates, the unemployment… All these are the wounds that have not healed, because there has not been any accountability – the architects and beneficiaries of apartheid will not be called to account.
The story of South Africa is essentially a story of a heinous crime against humanity where the institutionalised violence against Africans dished out over centuries is to be forgotten as the instigators continue to thrive.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or work that we should look out for?
I will be working on a project for the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands to erect the Nelson Mandela Monument at the Nelson Mandela Park in the neighbourhood of Bijlmer in South East Amsterdam in 2020.
I will also be having a solo exhibition titled ZANJ opening in September at the Ron Mandos gallery in Amsterdam. The exhibition features a series of films and photographs related to my Land of Zanj performance artwork commissioned for the Sharjah Biennial, which happened in March 2019.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
By visiting my website.
A self-proclaimed choreo-photolist currently residing in Manchester, Benji Reid fuses photography with theatricality and choreography. He has an uncanny ability to capture motion and emotion in a single image or series of images. What we love about Benji is his use of photography as a medium to ‘circumvent cultural gatekeepers’.
When did you start on your journey of creativity?
I started being creative at an early age. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to dance and act. There was something about being embodied or being in the moment that felt like flying. I tapped into something special very young. I also had the ability to take electronic objects apart and put them back together again.
How would you define creativity?
Creativity is the ability to see things differently and then put it into action. It’s not only limited to the arts.
How did you come to combine choreography and photography, and what prompted the idea?
Photography found me. I had a camera that was lying around after my dance theatre company had folded… one day I took the camera up and I never put it down. I wanted to explore how I would tell stories using this lens. I had no choice – these things were available to me, and sometimes the act of art comes from desperate circumstances.
You mention Mon Oncle and Jason and the Argonauts as some of your earliest inspirations. What about these films inspired you?
They both explored different worldviews, fantastical and absurd; worlds of the imagination that were both very visual and far from mundane. I was an introverted child and these films inspired me, as I would place myself in them and escape.
Where else do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in everything. One just has to be attentive.
How do you think technology has changed art and how it is consumed?
One of the advantages of technology is that we can reach a wider audience with our work.
The down side is that some art is becoming like fast food. It hard to predict where it’s going but AI is on the horizon, how this will affect the art, God only knows.
What kind of stories are you attempting to tell through your work?
My work is mainly about the black body through the black male lens. Personal and political.
Tell us about your workshops and masterclasses. What do they cover and who should attend?
My masterclass focuses on visual theatre, making the connection between the body and emotion as the starting point, and then I introduce text. Curious people should attend.
The Botswanan photographer who specialises in skate imagery, says it’s helped him to sharpen his skills and to highlight the skate scene in Gaborone.
Born and raised in Gaborone, Botswana, Mosako Kushata Okaile Chalashika spent seven years in South Africa (in Kimberley from 2011 to 2015 and in Cape Town from 2016 to 2018). Before he was a photographer who held a fascination for the skate world, he was himself a skater.
‘The main reason I got into photography is that the skate scene in Gaborone had never had a photographer in the past,’ he says, ‘so that meant that there wasn’t any skateboarding content coming out of Botswana. I really wanted to fill that gap and give Botswana the skateboarding exposure it needed.’
During his years in Cape Town he honed his craft and began practising in earnest. ‘As I was shooting more skateboarding photos, I slowly got into shooting studio, fashion, portraits, etc in 2017. The main reason I came to Cape Town in the first place was to study professional photography at City Varsity and I completed my course in December 2018.’
Mosako’s hope is that his photography will raise awareness about the skateboarding scene in Gaborone. ‘In the past 2-3 years there has been some progress. We have had a few videos and couple of photo features in Session skateboarding magazine. Last year we also had the Vans ZA team coming to tour our city and Gaborone skater Kagiso Leburu and I recently travelled to Lagos, Nigeria, to attend Go Skate Boarding Day in June. At the moment we are having a hard time getting a skate park in Gaborone, but hopefully this will be a reality soon.’
‘The energy we give out to each other is authentic, and that’s what I love about the skate culture in Botswana.’
Mosako says that the skate culture in Botswana is a small community. ‘But there really is a beautiful side to it because everyone knows each other, so whatever skate missions or plans we have, no one is ever left out.’
There are no brand sponsorships in Gaborone, or major league contests and skateparks. ‘So, when you see someone with a skateboard, they’re doing it because they genuinely love it. The energy we give out to each other is authentic, and that’s what I love about the skate culture in Botswana. I’m sure that most African countries can relate.
In terms of how skateboarding has influenced his photography, Mosako explains that it’s made him more aware of his surroundings when he’s shooting in the streets. ‘It has made my timing sharper,’ he says. ‘I’m now more conscious about composition and it has shown me the importance of angles.’
‘I studied digital media design and I’m passionate about visual communication. In 2016, I received the award for best visual techniques in my final year of Multimedia Technology Design at the University of Johannesburg. But it’s something I left behind as soon as I found photography. I’m deeply interested in street style photography and studio photography (any genre). I love creating with light.’
LESEDI ‘S WORK
‘With my street style photography, I feel in control, so I can paint any picture I want. But I always try to capture the human spirit. Everyone’s face has a story to tell. It can be deceiving, truthful, heroic, joyful, ugly or beautiful. But these are just the surface labels we give to images of people.’
PHOTOGRAPHER: LESEDI MOTHOAGAE @LAMPOST
Theodore Afrika is a photographer who doesn’t like to be hemmed in by labels. When you hear his name, think of him as a brand; a creative who has a passion for art, music and dance, and who pours passion into his work. As a photographer in Cape Town, South Africa, he’s had to develop tunnel vision when it comes to his work. In a place that can be blinkered and racist, he has chosen to blur out the negatives and adjust his focus to the positives.
Theodore combines his love for portraiture photography with his love of self-expression. His approach to the craft is emotive and captivating. After working in the field for some time, he decided that freelancing was the way to go and not long after, he was signed up as a photographer at Hero Creative Management. His advice to aspiring photographers? ‘Don’t allow the distractions of the industry to draw you away from your passion and never limit yourself. It’s easy for someone to colour in a drawing, but not everyone can stay between the lines – and they shouldn’t either.’
‘I specifically love taking portraits. I enjoy telling a story using the subject and the surrounding scenery.’
PHOTOGRAPHER: THEODORE AFRIKA @HERO CREATIVE MANAGEMENT