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Desire Marea
Desire MareaPhotography Kristin-Lee Moolman, styling Gabrielle Kannemeyer

Gender-bending portraits of South African youth

Kristin-Lee Moolman captures her subjects in a series of photographs inspired by the androgyny of 80s township culture

“We wanted to capture the essence of South African township culture in the 80s and 90s,” says South African photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman, recalling the brief for this shoot – the SS16 lookbook for emerging designer Rich Mnisi’s brand OATH studio. “The culture of androgyny was at its peak, supported largely by the need to ‘show up’ (out do each other).” So, to shoot the images, they headed to Mnisi’s grandmother’s house in Chiawelo, Soweto. When it came to casting the story, Moolman and Mnisi were keen to paint an accurate picture of youth culture in Johannesburg. 

While Janet Otobo is a professional model, Wayne Swart is a student who they street cast on the way to the shoot. Aart Verrips is a photographer and, in fact, was Moolman’s assistant on the day. Incidentally it was Verrips’ first time in Soweto. “(It) was a new experience, especially being Afrikaans and gay,” he told us. “It was incredibly refreshing to go to the township and experiencing something totally different to what your perception had been.” As for Lucky Macheke – an accountant – he is Mnsis’s cousin and just happened to be hanging out in his grandmother’s house.

Desire Marea is one half of FAKA, an art duo who, as black queer artists, explore their complex identities through performance. “We teach complexities in a radical fight for our own humanity,” Marea says, explaining their raison d’être. In fact, Moolman and Mnisi also wanted to engage in identity politics in this shoot. “We felt that androgyny resonates with young people in South Africa now, where there is almost a celebration of LGBT communities as a movement to oppose cultural stereotypes and homophobia.”