Growing up in Vrededorp, the talented young artist was exposed to a community heavily influenced by substance abuse. And although he’s experimented with it in the past, Mkhwanazi has since taken a step forward, refuses to be a follower of pack and is making a life for himself through art. His latest offering explores this notion of what happens to a community seeking validation, attainment and normality and the impact it has on people’s life options and choices. Through a series of photographs, he captures the neighbourhood’s unique diversity and what it means to live in one such community – bringing to light how people are struggling to survive.
Mkhwanazi says: “The Usual Suspect confronts stereotypes about substance users, while reflecting on the challenges the users encounter on a daily basis. It is an insider’s reflection of individuals’ deferred dreams and aspirations, amidst a culture seeking to negatively label and alienate them.”
A recipient of the Gisèle Wulfsohn Mentorship in Photography, he still lives in Vrededorp, bringing inspiration and hope to those around him. He, at the same time, seeks to give outsiders a better understanding of the effect these communities have on those living there.
“While I was still experimenting with substances, I would spend time reflecting on the dreams and aspirations I had growing up. I realised my surroundings were influencing my choices and, in a way, were putting a halt on my dreams. Through photography I managed to escape that world.”
Mkhwanazi says those who have visited the exhibition, have related well with the subject matter and are keen to engage with him on the message behind the work. Asked if he’s had any negative responses, he admits: “I had an issue with one of the subjects. That helped me reconsider my approach. I learnt it was crucial to explain the project and to get permission from the person you want to photograph.”
Mkhwanazi’s dream is to take the project to communities countrywide.