Honai! - Photography exhibition by Nancy Mteki

Photography | By Nancy Mteki, Photographer | 02 October 2015
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

started photography in 2008, introduced by Buyaphi Mdledle from Cape Town. I have exhibited in Zimbabwe, South Afrika, Europe and other parts of Afrika. I enjoy collaborating with artists and engaging in workshops. Themes I enjoy tackling include women and society.

My work is inspired by emotions and things that I have been through in my life and try to portray it through photography and explain my inner feelings to the world. I am inspired by what other people are going through as well.

The work for Honai started in September 2014. I have longed to do something that had to do with my past and to express my emotions. The title Honai is a shortened version from ; “Ah, Honai! Arambwa nemurume, achazvara vana vakawanda nanababa vakasiyana siyana.”  These are the words I could hear every day. Through this work I was trying to tell the possibility of me becoming a better person.

 Through Honai I was trying to express the pain that I went through when I was pregnant. It was difficult to face the society who were judging me because of what had happened. The work is also a reflection of what other women face in society, facing neglect, going through depression, miscarriages, and sometimes they could go through early marriages just to please the society. This work is expressing my experience and to engage other women and other people in society. 

Honai looks at the black female body, and when people look at the black female body we tend to judge without knowing what’s inside that person. Society tends to judge who you are what you wear, what you do and who you talk to. Society imposes rules like the way you live your life, for example, when you are leaving your house you must wear certain clothes, you must do certain things you don’t want to do. In my work I tend to bring a dialogue between the object, subject and society.  

I intend to have a bigger dialogue about this work and encourage people to open up about themselves. To other artists, if you need to work on a certain subject, it should be about you expressing what you want, you being open to the world. Sometimes these topics that we need to explore could be in your household. Like what I did I worked in a domestic space to tell a story about being a woman using my body as a woman to express these challenges.

I did the shoot myself at my house using a timer. I wanted to tell my story in a private space on my own. Having someone to take the photos becomes another story. The process was to have myself in the kitchen. The kitchen is where society wants the women to be, being a mother. I included the newspaper to represent the background, meaning its me in front and the society is at the back. The newspaper as a backdrop was to represent the world and the society. Light was an important factor as I shot in the afternoon with the image starting darker progresses to light. This was part of the process I was using to tell the story, as my story was coming from being dark to being light, from being shameless to being braver and to talk about my story.

I was not sure if the work was going to be exhibited in Zimbabwe. I approached up to four people, some who said they love the work but they cannot show it to the public. I then met Dana Whabira of Njelele Art Station and we discussed the work and she loved it and said Nancy, there is a story behind this work, if you want to showcase the work I can give you that platform. Dana is passionate about art and she was there to support me from  day one. The work is not just me showing off my body, there is a story behind it, its not just me taking off my clothes and showing off my other life, my other identity but its also about engaging with the society. Its not something that is new but its something that women out there can relate to. I knew what I wanted to show and I knew the effect of showing that work. Even when people came to see the work they were shocked. Some commented that “I used to see this kind of work in magazines, but its different when we see it in the gallery space even in Zimbabwe” Generally it was well received with people talking about how I was brave, fearless and confident and that is what women are supposed to be. Be proud of who you are and what you are going through.

With Linda Gabriel it started as a conversation on Facebook, she said she loved my work and I am coming to the opening and I said maybe you can come through and do a performance. After the speech she performed a poem and I was moved by the poem and Linda mentioned some of the aspects from my exhibition. In future I would love to work with Linda and include images with the spoken word and video.   

I would like to thank Njelele for giving me the space to show my work and also to engage with the public,and I would like to thank my father who has been my number one supporter of my art from day one, including my mother and my grand mother. I spend most of my time with my grandmother and she was present at the opening of the exhibition.