Kasigrams|The photographer who went from Kagiso to the Big Apple

Self portrait
Image: Reatile Moalusi

Thirty-five-year-old Johannesburg-based photographer Reatile Moalusi was fortunate enough to be selected from more than 2 800 photographers around the globe to travel to New York to attend and showcase his art at the 2018 New York Portfolio Review.

Sponsored by the New York Times Lens blog, the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and United Photo Industries, the annual review is an opportunity for artists to receive feedback, gain support, and find a platform for their work. Moalusi seeks to achieve the ultimate human freedom: the power to choose, to respond, and to bring change through riveting photography that he hopes will raise social awareness in the townships and Africa as a whole. Moalusi grew up in the township of Kagiso near Krugersdorp in Gauteng, and he says his childhood continues to inspire his photography and artwork.

“The township has shown me the potential of doing things for ourselves and has instilled a sense of ubuntu in my demeanour,” he says. “It has allowed me to spend time with characters and people who have inspired my photos.”

The first body of work Moalusi submitted to the New York Portfolio Review includes Molelo/Mollo Wa Badimo, which, loosely translated, means “fire of the ancestors”. It focuses on the skin condition vitiligo, which causes depigmentation on sections of skin.“Metaphorically speaking, Molelo/Mollo Wa Badimo suggests notions that illustrate a fusion of opposites (white and black), an element of the new South Africa (the rainbow nation), and the coexistence of opposites in one,” Moalusi explains. “This body of work is a collection of portraits that conveys a sense of character through capturing the embodied contrasts of vitiligo.”

The second collection, titled Street Vendor, was inspired by the conditions men and women face in South Africa’s townships on a daily basis.

“Street Vendor taps into how black men and women have to endure hazardous conditions to survive,” Moalusi says. “The project highlights how unsafe their mode of transportation is, the weather conditions they are faced with, and how companies that cover their logistics facilitate this in a manner that is rather degrading and similar to how goods and tools would be carried.”

Moalusi’s work speaks to the dynamics of local culture; his depictions of everyday big-city life and beautiful, thought-provoking portraits aim to change how people from the townships see their own space.

The New York Portfolio Review gave Moalusi the opportunity to live out loud and thus inspired his latest body of work, which was shot in the US and is titled Coming to America. “This body of work was inspired by my first time travelling to the US.

It focuses on several perceptions I had of the US, including the American Dream, hip-hop, #BlackLives Matter, the Black Panthers (not the movie but the revolutionary organisation), and the concept of the cultural melting pot,” he says.

“The project focused on the placement of different ethnic groups along the railway line. I also analysed the evolution of the spaces: from what Brooklyn was in the ’80s to what it is now. The project is only in its infancy, and I am allowing the process of learning the US to guide its evolution.”

This article first appeared in print in the Sowetan S Mag June 2018 edition.

X