Eve Phili, Mthabisi's Grandmother.
Julie in December, 2015
Sorotia in 2016
Sorotia in 2016
Sorotia visiting at Eve Phili's. 2017
Sithabile, with her mother, Sorotia, and oldest daughter, Leah. Her son, Njabulo, her daughter, Salem, her nephew, Tashinga, and her niece Hellen. (left to right)
Tashinga, Salem 9, Njabulo 4, Hellen
Juliana at home, 2016
Juliana at a party at Eve's, 2017.
Leah, 13 in 2016.
Gokwe North, Zimbabwe
This is a collaboration by three artists (Christopher Hunt, Elise Swain and Mthabisi Phili) who have visited the rural community of Nembudziya in Gokwe North, Zimbabwe together since 2010. During their time with the community, the artists realised that few printed images of family members, both past and present, were kept. The recent and rapid introduction of mobile phones has led to the capture of digital images that are lost as and when the handsets are changed. The artists are continuing to document and record this community in order to, over a period of time, provide family photos and create an archive to preserve time and place.
Christopher and Elise met while studying photography at The School of Visual Arts in New York and have been regularly exploring Zimbabwe with Mthabisi, particularly Nembudziya where he was brought up by extended family. The written statement is by Mthabisi Phili and all imagery is by Christopher Hunt and Elise Swain.
Gokwe North is in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe and the regions’ name is Nembudziya. The original inhabitants are the Korekore people and the area was one of many resettled by the Zimbabwean government in the 1980s. Today the faces of Nembudziya reflect a mix of individuals from various ethnicities farming seasonal crops, including cotton and maize, from the fertile soils in addition to keeping livestock. Water is obtained from boreholes, wells or streams and there is little trade with the outside world as the roads remain in a poor state.
Zimbabwe has been generally spoken about in the context of an authoritative government complete with various human rights violations, yet these subjects defy the sense of oppression, the state of being controlled, and instead, reflect freedom and exuberance. Their distinctive posturing and demeanor identifies them as being from an uncommon place which each frame reveals slowly. Each individual occupies the space as a character and individual, not just as a nameless and exploited face. The photographers are connected and have a relationship with each of the people revealed here, after years of annually visiting their homes, chatting over a cup of tea or a mug of ‘dhoro’. The predominant number of these faces have smiles and countenances that engage by providing alternative portraits for the global audience.
The collection is an example of photography being used as a record for both the people and artists. The subjects’ engagement acts as a functional tool to reveal postures and arrangements. And there is an element of seriousness with which the people are posing as they are rarely photographed. They make both a public and private statement about their own identity and this is important as many images were taken because the subjects engaged the photographers to create the mise en scène. The interactions also urge important questions concerning the medium: why do people stand in front of the lens, and why do they want their picture taken?
The relationship between the photographers and the subjects is a product of a mutual collaboration. Christopher Hunt and Elise Swain have grown to be comfortable friends of the community of people to note a few; Tonderai Sibanda, Mai Napiers, and Julia Nyikahedzoyi and this friendship grew to access the trust of the larger community. It is also pertinent to clarify that the people wanted them to take photos, there was no preconceived idea to produce any collection of portraits besides that of visiting a local friend, Gogo Eve Phiri, as the photographers had made similar visits before. With that said it is clear that the subjects seem to have had total control of how they wanted themselves to be portrayed. This element is important to preserve in this ongoing project. It is clear that there is more to this conversation and that the trajectory of the work in the future will reveal more as the collaboration between Gokwe and the photographers continues.
©Mthabisi Phili 2016