Photographer Nontsikelelo 'Lolo' Veleko and the perception of black identities

November 2008 -

With his rapid rise to power, the American media have wondered how black Barack Obama really is. In South Africa, artists are also considering this subject. What is our own perception of the identity of a person you see on the street, and how does your perception differ from those of others? That question lies at the core of the work by South African photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko. Her photos have been selected for expositions including Snap Judgments, the exposition on contemporary African photography on display in the Amsterdam municipal Stedelijk Museum during August and September of this year. Her work was also shown during Breda Photo 2008.

Photo: Nontsikelelo Veleko

"In the series Not black enough, I photographed people with mixed black parentage. That turned out to be an extremely personal series with which I hoped to discover how black people perceive me to be. I photographed and interviewed a lot of people. Striking to me was the fact that many people were hesitant to discuss their heritage or felt uncomfortable talking about it. One person told me I was too skinny to be black. Another said that the way I walk is not black. It kept me preoccupied for quite some time, but I finally shook off the questions. I am black, coloured, a chameleon: what ever you need me to be. I am Lolo."

In the series Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the identity aspect focuses on the clothing people use to project a different identity. "I chose the title when I heard people saying: 'How can you wear yellow pants and a pink striped sweater?' The way I experience beauty may be entirely different from others. Perception is really much more personal than people realise. I wish more people understood that. I am not my clothes, I only wear them", says Veleko.