exploring the politics of fashion at the afropunk x umuzi ringa! exhibition

October 10, 2017

Photo by Jamal Nxedlana 


By Christa Dee / Bubblegum Club*, AFROPUNK Contributor

Umuzi in partnership with AfroPunk put together the exhibition RINGA!, Exhibition of Taal on the 5th of October. Reflecting on the weight that language holds, with regards to identity and being able to connect with other people, this exhibition focused on the concept of language in Southern Africa as a complex singularity, rather than languages as separate entities.

A group of young Umuzi artists teamed up with Sandile Radebe and ߔߎ߯ߟߍ߫ ߞߊ-ߖߊ߬ߣߏ߬ߟߌ߲߯ߗߌ to use Isibheqe, an indigenous writing system for Southern African languages, as a medium to convey an everyday, pan-lingual experience. These works were premised on the idea of language as a flowing system that has the ability to carve out pathways and connect back to itself. The exhibition aimed to provide viewers with an experience within which they can engage with language in a non-hierarchical manner. The exhibition was curated by Chantelle Lue, Afari Kofi, Clayton Nkateko, ߔߎ߯ߟߍ߫ ߞߊ-ߖߊ߬ߣߏ߬ߟߌ߲߯ߗߌ, Sandile Radebe, and Odendaal Esterhuyse.

Fashion could also be interpreted as a kind of language, and in the same way that language carries political weight, so does fashion. I interviewed five people who attended the exhibition to chat to them about the politics of fashion.

Themba Nkuna

Wearing wide-rimmed white glasses and his mother’s shirt under his coat, Themba Nkuna caught my eye. In conversation about what he is wearing he mentioned, “I’m gay so I like to blend masculinity and femininity.” He also emphasized how his star sign, Cancer, influences how he has gotten to know parts of himself. “I rise as a Cancer so my emotions just change. Every day I wake up I am a different person. My emotions guide me. And my clothes are a representation of that.”

Photograph of Tiniko Baloyi

Tiniko Baloyi

Floating in a sea of people, Tiniko’s white beret bobbed around as she animated the conversation she was lost in. Pulling her aside we spoke about what is means to be a woman of colour in the city, and how this plays into her fashion choices. “I am black and a women. I think that certain things are presented by me from a certain perspective. But it is not necessarily something I think about and want to bring out,” she states about how she chooses to dress herself. “I like different ethnicities. I am drawn to different ethnic groups. Where they come from does not really matter. I also like street cultures. That’s a kind of ethnicity that is more urban. This also influences my personal style.”


Photograph of Tiniko Baloyi


Photograph of Alora Reine

Alora Reine

With her locs swinging from side to side as we walked in the dimly lit street beside the exhibition, Alora shared with me how she combines thrifting with her chic grunge aesthetic. “I make and paint my own clothes as well,” she adds. “Self expression is very important to me,” she continues. Emphasizing how she is pro-Black in all senses of the word, Alora explains how African apparel completes her chic grunge look as well as bring to the fore her pro-Black sentiments. “My pro-Blackness does not influence how I think about other Eurocentric cultures or trends,” she argues. However, she does present a humanist alignment when she mentions, “First of all I am a human being before I am a black human being. Before I am a pro-Black woman.”

Photograph of Alora Reine

Photograph of Allyssa


Fine Arts student Allyssa amalgamates the feminine and masculine in how she thinks about fashion. Mentioning that studying Fine Art has helped her to find her personal style, she states that, “I am a young woman…I don’t care about looking very feminine all the time because I do not think that is important. I don’t need to look like a ‘lady’ everyday. I usually wear really baggy things. I wear my dad’s clothes. I buy men’s clothes. I buy women’s clothes. I buy whatever I like. I don’t care about what anyone else things about what I like.”

Photograph of Allyssa

Photograph of Chantelle Lue

Chantelle Lue

Even while wearing all black, Chantelle brought light with her presence while in conversation with me. “Although my entire wardrobe is black and I think that is just a hang-up of my life in architecture, [my personal style] is a case of comfort and speedy changing.” She mentioned that she finds strength in black. “I have recently shaved my head which I guess was indicative of a new start and it means that I have got nothing to hide behind anymore. I feel a bit exposed at the moment but I find strength in that. I recently dyed it blonde…I think the fact that I don’t wear dresses or I guess my style tends to be quite androgynous, there may be something in that. But for practical reasons I find that I am more agile dressed compactly in black.”


*This post is in partnership with Bubblegum Club