Striking poses for women worth imitating
If you could be recreated as an icon, who would you be? I would come back as my aunt, Puleng “Bingi” Khoabane, who went into exile at the age of 14, received military training in Angola and was later sent to Cuba. I did not know her well; this girl who became a soldier to liberate her country lived too short a life, but at least she returned to SA and died free.
There are other icons, such as Joyce Sikhakhane, Charlotte Maxeke, Albertina Sisulu, Esther Mahlangu, Bessie Head, Miriam Makeba and Ruth First. These are some of the women whose images have been recreated in an online photo series entitled “Icons Revisited”.
Young thought leaders have been photographed to echo famous portraits of women who made their mark in arts and culture, politics, health care and other sectors. Created by Vuyo Dlamini as a project for the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the photo series is an ongoing project that will eventually be made into a coffee-table book.
The intention, says Dlamini, is to “tell stories of young women who are doing excellent work and are not often celebrated or featured on mainstream media platforms.
“They don’t have thousands of social media followers; that’s not what it’s about. They are activists, entrepreneurs, artists and environmentalists who are pursuing their beliefs and passions for the betterment of our world rather than for recognition.
“Our aim in featuring them is to illuminate their work. At the same time, the photos memorialise icons who paved the way for women in different spheres of South African life.”
The women in the famous portraits mostly also worked behind the scenes. Few were celebrated for their work during their lifetime.
Broadcast journalist Andisa Ndlovu, photographed in the pose of Miriam Makeba, said she was moved by the concept but did not immediately agree to be part of it.
“I felt like she was way too big and I didn’t deserve to portray her, that someone ‘bigger’ should do it. But then I thought maybe she would want a girl like me to do it. I see in myself the little Xhosa girl in her, the young woman driven by her convictions.”
Ndlovu first heard of Makeba in grade 8, when her social sciences teacher was looking at ways in which art can be used to influence society.
“We were asked to pick a musician on a list given to us, listen to a song of theirs provided by our teacher and analyse the lyrics. My group chose Makeba and we heard her song, A Luta
Continua. I read more about her and was intrigued by her strength.”
Makeba, who died in 2008, spent three decades in exile.
“She was an activist before she was a musician,” says Ndlovu. “Her music gave a voice to her activism. She used her art as a platform for her politics and her legacy lives beyond just her music.”
Environmental activist Catherine Constantinides was photographed in the pose of Ruth First, the South African anti-apartheid activist who was killed by a parcel bomb in Mozambique, where she worked in exile.
“As I stepped into the shoes and life of an iconic South African that played such an immense role in our history, I was reminded of the strength and courage that women played during the darkest days of the apartheid struggle,” says Constantinides.
“This project has allowed me to take a better look at the life and times of Ruth First. I was moved by her fight, her willpower and the manner in which her legacy lived on through what she achieved.
“We are often reminded of the struggle icons, our freedom fighters and the heroes of our history, but these women were the crucial cogs that allowed men in the front line to continue fighting.”
Photographer Dlamini posed herself as Sophia de Bruyn, activist and trade unionist who was the first recipient of the Women’s Award for exceptional national service and is the last living leader of the Women’s March. Community leadership champion Busi Mkhumbuzi appears as student activist Joyce Sikhakhane; youth activist Amonge Sinxoto is Charlotte Maxeke; writer Malaika Mahlatsi is Albertina Sisulu; engineering innovator Nneile Nkholise is Esther Mahlangu and youth employment facilitator Whitney Jacobs is Bessie Head.
‘I felt like she was way too big … but I see in myself the little Xhosa girl in her’ Andisa Ndlovu on Miriam Makeba