| Dillion Phiri | 25 October, 2016
We speak to Abongwe Qokela who was a model in her recent project titled ‘Passion Project’. The project is based on the notion of growth and change; which is the only constant, although many times it throws us into a space of uncertainty. This series is indicative of the transition into that space. A space of mutation and reclamation. Beautiful as is, change is painful, and growth can hurt. This is a story of permanence where light collides with darkness.
Koketso: Please tell me about yourself, what you do, who you are, and where you are based?
Abongwe: My name is Abongwe Qokela, I’m a 30yr old lifestyle blogger based in Cape Town. I dabble in a bit of styling work on the side and work for a retail company; I took on a job in the fashion industry after working with NGO’s for years. This was a big step for me.
Koketso: From working with NGO’s to working in the fashion industry; tell me about that transition.
Abongwe: It’s been one that had to happen; I loved and still love the work I did in the NGO sector. I knew that fashion had a place in my heart and I needed to explore it. It hasn’t been easy, it just felt right.
Koketso: Change is something you seem to know a lot about. Would you please share how your own experiences inspired this project.
Abongwe: I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my life of late, especially this year. Turned 30 and had to make some decisions about my future. It hasn’t been easy, yet life needs to go on. Doing things I wouldn’t have and taking leaps of faith; took on a job in the fashion industry from years of being in NGOs and that was big for me. Even had some personal changes too that life presented me with. This project is a reminder that I may not be in the position that I want to be in, but I’m in the industry I’ve been dreaming of and I will make it work.
Koketso: Following your heart has led you to creating and doing some lovely work; tell me about some of your favourite project (s)
Abongwe: Following my heart has been interesting. It has opened opportunities to work with amazing people. One of my favourite projects was with Thembela Nymless Ngayi; this was a mentally intense shoot, I was really shocked at the response it got. The title: ‘The Great African Horror’, a project which was photographing the effects of depression on African men, inspired by the myth’s which surrounded his (Thembela’s) peers death; who committed suicide after suffering from depression.
Koketso: How do you feel the African community is dealing with depression and other mental illnesses? Are they receptive, is this still a taboo subject?
Abongwe: It is still a taboo subject in our communities, we still have a long way to go. I believe that things are slowly changing as people are starting to engage in dialogues about mental illness. Young people are becoming more vocal about it and it is reflective in their work, and social circles.
Koketso: How do you feel these type of projects; which challenge these taboo subjects in the African community, are starting these dialogues?
Abongwe: People who are doing these projects are young people who are experiencing these things themselves. When they create these projects they are portraying their reality. Speaking from a place of honesty. We are more open to talk about these otherwise known as taboo subjects.
Koketso: Who did you work with on the project?
Abongwe: I worked with the amazing Dambakuombera, an amazing photographer whose attention to detail and art is beautiful. We have an amazing working relationship and that is why I chose him for this project.
Koketso: You collaborated with Nestlings Network member; Dambakuombera to create Passion Projects, tell me more about the project.
Abongwe: The passion project is literally that; it came from an honest place and was more than just a series of work. It came at a time where change was happening in my life and I wanted to turn it into a body of work, it’s about the process of change and how beautiful and painful it can be. That aside, change will happen, it is in how you view it. Change is the only constant although many a times it throws us into a space of uncertainty. This series is indicative of the Transition into that space. A space of mutation and reclamation. Beautiful as it is, change is painful, growth can hurt, and this is a story of permanence where light colludes with darkness.
Dambakuombera: Abongwe and I, worked together on a street shoot- sort of a look book with outfits provided by Imprint ZA. The outcome of that project was really impressive which i think was the energy that brought us to work together again on a more expressive project. Technically it is a build up from the initial collaboration. Generally, I am influenced by my surroundings and the people around me. In many instances, I relate to my work on a personal level. This body of work is reflective of that. It is out of the willingness; to express the experiences of change, that we have managed to create this collection of images.
I experience and bear witness to a lot of change. The transition can however, be unsettling characterised by a lot of uncertainty. I never really have an expectation of how people interpret my work. It is always different with the work I produce.
Koketso: How has the passion project changed the way you see yourself and your perspectives on life?
Abongwe: It has helped me deal with change by understanding that change will happen and no matter how uncomfortable it is, it can turn out to be a beautiful thing. It is better not to fight it, rather embrace it.
Koketso: How do you want your project to change the perspectives of those who see it?
Abongwe: I would like for them to know and understand that change is beautiful, change is is constant and above all it can be beautiful.
Koketso: What other projects are you working on? Any projects we should be looking forward to in the future?
Abongwe: I have a few projects in the pipeline which i’m working on, nothing I can talk about now, but it’s going to be exciting!