Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Nontsikelelo Veleko, Hloni, 2004 (2094.2005)

Okwui Enwezor’s 2006 exhibition at ICP entitled Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography is still vitally important. His central concern shattered the omnipresent myth often limiting Africa to a static vision marked by disaster and poverty. The works offered a strong repudiation to this narrative and challenged viewers on many of their assumptions. The photographs such as Hloni from Nontsikelelo “Lolo” Veleko, originally from Cape Town and currently living in France, presented Johannesburg with complexity, nuance, and a range of possible interpretations. As with others in her series Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder from 2004, this image exemplifies her subjects’ refusal to be passively represented. Instead they resolutely and forcefully declare their presence. Hloni affixes the viewer with a direct gaze as he stands in the middle of a street. A van behind him offers a metaphorical push into the future as opposed to a glance into the past. His connection to the viewer, combined with the bright colors of his ensemble, generates an electric energy and tension within the frame. For her project, Veleko focused on contemporary fashion in Johannesburg. Her series commented on one’s ability and choice to play with constructed identities and signifiers that subverted expectations and stereotypes. Even now, her portrait remains contemporary and time spent with it continues to yield exciting and valuable insights.

Sasha Bush, ICP-Bard 2017

About claartjevandijk

Assistant Curator, Collections at the International Center of Photography, New York
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