There is something raw, but also fragile in the eyes of Makhúkhú Molepo. Khú, as he also likes to be called, first told me that he understands photography through architecture and that his fascination with the latter comes from his intent studying of light when captured in the brevity of the moment. It is the geometrical arching of light and shadow that has made him fall in love with the art… fully although gradually… and almost timidly. The fragility one can sense in his eyes also comes from his gnawing ineptitude to accept what he is slowly and very surely becoming: an intense soul capturer, a portraitist of genius and a very humble creative.
The departure from architecture, which he still practices with the lofty intent of challenging rural habitus in South Africa and perhaps even more so in the Limpopo province he calls home, is not a real departure. It is a way of connecting the dots through uncanny visual storytelling, enabling the mind and body to experience rather than to perform mechanically and dare I say, aimlessly. For Khú, to be alive is to experience, to acknowledge and express who we are and who we can be and his photographic eye reaches far, far, far into the life within rather than the life exposed.
Sunflower Sage Second Coming (2018); Model: Leepie Makgatho, Limpopo studio, South Africa
It may be that Khú has always had to live within… yearning to belong yet having to contain the effervescence of the difference he wanted to make, espousing the singularities of being Man, African and Queer. I have never been one to say that words do not matter because they do but they also encapsulate and in the sight of talent, encapsulation is a form of limitation. Khú however believes that naming can become a form of embrace or rather the abundant form of embrace. In a country that has seen in recent years an ostensibly high increase in femicide and where the highly sexualised dynamics between men and women are dangerously palpable, to explore the vulnerabilities of masculinity can appear to be a pretty bold move.
Batswala (“Cousins, brothers, friends”) (2018), Models: Ajala Olukianifemi, Mpumelelo Ngwenya, Johannesburg studio, South Africa
In discussing the nuances of his own masculinity, Khú makes the interesting yet arguable point that in refuting their vulnerability although perhaps unintentionally, South African men become unemotional, unattached of sorts and therefore find themselves navigating their society in opposition to or at a distance to their female counterparts. Femininity is anchored in expression, according to the photographer. It is rooted in the urge and need to nurture, to allow for growth, to expand. I had to wonder if Khu saw femininity as infinity… but in my wonder, I had to refrain from fully accepting the discourse that men and women cannot share traits that are far from being innate but are very much acquired through socialisation.
And upon gazing at the tearful fierceness of the young woman in his Depression in Stills series, the ebullient shades of black of the flower petal- covered male bodies in To Mourn a Rose, or the twisted and supple back of the seated man in Untitled, I began perceiving his intention of baring his truth and laying his vision for a gender enriched and permeable world. At the very core of his appeal is the call for annihilating the margins or at the very least coalescing them into the pulse of society. The question of normalising difference is one that truly keeps me up at night. I guess it is the absurdity of the antithesis but most disturbingly the nonsensical argument that an actual norm prefigures another. When I look at Khú’s photographic reveries, wonderings and intimate journeys into Blackness, I see a spectrum of unfettered normalcy, of transcendent pain, of infinite beauty, and of grave stillness.
To mourn a Rose #1 (2018), Model: Ajala Oluwanifemi, Johannesburg studio, South Africa
Untitled #4 (2018), Model: Ajala Oluwanifemi, Johannesburg studio, South Africa
His creative process is thus akin to the gestational uproar of birthing: cathartic, messy, unbridled, imperfect in its glory, shattered pieces of his former selves splattered out from the lens. Never has masculinity felt so real, so weak, so attractive, so whole. If the many refusals, rebuttals, and rejections have led him to such heights, what will acceptance look like?
Khú says his muses are ordinary (although extraordinarily good looking) men and women whom he meets on the streets, in public transportation, and that he connects with beyond the work that they produce together. What he attempts at creating is a sort of spatial exploration of the body and particularly that of the Black body both allegorically and physically. His relationship to colour is singular and at the same time emblematic of his relationship to photography: measured, paced, exploratory as he now enjoys seeking “soft, mute and earthly colours and even the absence thereof so as not to dominate the photograph and move attention from everything else. Everything deserves its place in an image”, he adds.
Some would probably view Molepo’s already substantial body of work as inherently dark and sorrowful. To those seeking enlightenment (all puns intended), I will gladly share the photographer’s words on the use of black paint on one of his models in Depression in Stills. Blackness cannot simply be synonymous of depression and sadness because it also represents “strength, might and will. Darkness must be tamed and controlled and if you hold it within you, it can help you achieve magnificent things”. And in that, we believe … wholeheartedly.
Depression in stills #1 (2018), Model: Nqobile Ntombela, Johannesburg studio, South Africa
Speak love; bring love; make love; hold love; command love and follow love. You may also give rejection with love and receive it so, but never take love for granted. Should the base of the construct of humanity become love, then not even the harshest rejections would result in a war. Khú Molepo
Khú Molepo is an architect, photographer and artist from South Africa. To see more of his exquisite body of work, visit his website www.twilhiuw.com & his posts @twilhiuw on Instagram