As a passionate photographer with a love for capturing raw emotions and unspoken stories, I had the incredible opportunity to embark on a transformative journey of collaboration during Women's Month. Under the banner of collaboration, the project titled 'Women (em)POWERED' brought together the vibrant spirits of the Mbokodo Project's Level 2 girls and my own vision as a photographer, resulting in a tapestry of empowerment, self-discovery, and boundless potential.
The journey began with a photoshoot held during one of the Mbokodo Project's sessions. The camera lens became a bridge, connecting their radiant confidence with the power of visual storytelling. As I clicked the shutter, their individual and collective strength seemed to radiate through the frames. Each click of the camera captured not just an image, but a moment of empowerment and a glimpse into their dreams and aspirations.
The captured moments were only the beginning. As I held the professionally printed photos in my hands, I embarked on the intricate process of cutting out each image with meticulous precision. This was a time of connection, a quiet moment where I felt as though I was getting to know each girl intimately, despite them not being present, as I prepared their canvases for the upcoming workshop.
As my colleagues rallied behind me with enthusiastic cheers and unwavering encouragement throughout the meticulous process of preparing the artworks for the workshop, I experienced an eye-opening realisation about the profound significance of support. Their unrelenting positivity not only bolstered my confidence but also underscored the transformative impact that a strong and uplifting community can have on one's creative journey.
The planning phase for the painting workshop was a challenge I welcomed with open arms. Drawing from my experience and artistic knowledge, I had to tailor my teaching approach to suit teenagers who might not have an extensive background in art. The workshop was carefully designed to introduce them to the world of colour theory, where each hue carries its own significance. Through a simple exercise, their understanding bloomed, and they eagerly began planning their artistic expressions. Brush stroke techniques came next, and I found myself standing beside each girl, demonstrating and guiding them through seven different techniques. The creativity and determination in their eyes mirrored the vibrant energy that had filled the room during the photoshoot.
Amidst the creative process, a serendipitous encounter unfolded. The artists from South Korea arrived - Henry Cheng, Joanne Kim, Hwang Su-kyung and Jang Yunyoung (Jang All). Henry is an award-winning composer and conductor who created an innovative fusion of Beethoven and the music of K-pop sensation BTS. His compositions wove a harmonious thread that connected cultures and resonated with the Mbokodo girls' choir, fostering an unparalleled collaboration. Joanne, a distinguished art curator hailing from South Korea, played an instrumental role in shaping the project's multidimensionality. She not only organized but also co-hosted a captivating zine workshop with Su-kyung and the Mbokodo girls, offering them a unique platform to express their creativity and stories through the artistic medium of zine making.
Hwang Su-kyung and her daughter, Jang Yunyoung (Jang All), joined Henry and Joanne in their travels to South Africa. Su-kyung was the artist that impacted me the most, even though we had limitations with language barriers, we overcame them through our love for art. We shared a moment through a translation app on her phone, where she told me that the Table Mountain painting she was working on was partially inspired by me. Jang All, an artist and filmmaker, added a dynamic layer to our Women's Month celebration. Her mesmerizing stop-motion animation synchronized perfectly with the Mbokodo girls' choir rendition of the song Impi Yamadoda Ayiphelicreating, a synergy that stirred the senses. (Watch the incredible video here) As she documented the artistic journey and interactions with Justice Desk Africa, she immortalized the spirit of 'Women (em)POWERED,' capturing the essence of collaboration, empowerment, and unity that transcends borders.
Witnessing their excitement and validation was a turning point for me. As a creative, the road is often solitary, and external validation becomes a rare gem. Yet, their encouragement nudged me out of my comfort zone. Their belief in my work inspired me to take a step forward, to add my name to the collaboration project, and to own my creativity unapologetically.
A pinnacle moment of the collaboration materialised as the final pieces came together. The room buzzed with anticipation as the Mbokodo girls gathered for the grand reveal. The sight of their completed artworks triggered an overwhelming wave of appreciation and celebration of women. Their radiant faces mirrored the empowerment and unity that had been woven into each stroke of paint. In that moment, I realized the profound importance of uplifting and celebrating the women around us, of being a part of something greater than ourselves. (Watch the full video here!)
The collaboration's impact rippled beyond the confines of the office. Seeing the artworks proudly displayed at the V&A Waterfront and the British High Commission was surreal. Yet, the true highlight remained the girls' reactions when they laid eyes on their creations. Their genuine joy and sense of accomplishment were a testament to the transformative power of artistic expression and collaboration.
As I reflect on this journey, I'm reminded that 'Women (em)POWERED' was not just about the final artworks or the process—it was about the growth, unity, and empowerment that we all experienced together. The project proved that when women come together to celebrate one another, magic happens. It was a reminder that even as a quiet artist who usually lets my work speak for itself, I too have the power to inspire change, ignite empowerment, and make a lasting impact.
In the end, 'Women (em)POWERED' stands as a living testament to the strength found in collaboration, the beauty of self-discovery through art, and the importance of celebrating the remarkable women who surround us. The journey was filled with challenges, triumphs, and moments of self-realization, and it's a journey I am eternally grateful to have been a part of.
Written by Mieke de Wet