Transformations photography exhibition in Muizenberg

Photographer Araminta de Clermont captures the personal journeys of former death row prisoners, Cape Flats matriculates and recently initiated Xhosa and Sotho men


Internationally acclaimed photographer Araminta de Clermont’s three-part “Transformations: Before Life, Life After and A New Life” exhibition showcases at Muizenberg’s Casa Labia Gallery from Friday, 5 October to Sunday, 25 November 2012. 

As part of the Cape Town Month of Photography, the retrospective explores the London-based artist’s pointed interest in the relationship between outward appearance and inner metamorphosis. More specifically, comprised of three separate individual bodies of work, the combined catalogue captures the external manifestations of the intensely personal, often cathartic, journeys of three distinct groups of individuals: South Africa’s ‘Numbers’ gang prisoners released back into society, Cape Flats girls dressed up for their matric dances and young Xhosa and Sotho men who have just returned from initiation in the bush.

Though the subject matter of each series varies tremendously, a common theme connects each line of work: Araminta’s drive to capture her subject’s sense of self and to portray their growth at critical points in their lives through demonstrations of the way they look.

As a recovering addict herself, she finds the subject of transformation fascinating: “I’m really interested in times of change because it’s what being alive is all about—growing, transforming and working to keep those changes in oneself alive and not slipping back into old ways of being. I say this because I’ve been through some profound changes in my life when I moved from addiction to recovery, and I struggled a lot with that change before and found myself slipping back into old ways. So it amazes me to see how much one can transform oneself and become stronger.” 

After Life

Intensely curious about the repercussions of living a life outside of prison while branded with the conspicuous tattooed-markings of a former inmate, Araminta sought out members of the infamous South African ‘Numbers’ game as photographic subjects. Stigmatised by their tattoos in the outside world, these prisoners had often chosen to engrave themselves within the institution of jail to convey rankings within the prison hierarchy, commemorate a crime or to simply communicate a personal statement. Both shocking and saddening, the series raises countless questions about this mode of self-expression in the context of a place as soul-destroying and threatening as prison. 

Before Life

Born from her previous work, ‘Before Life’ was Araminta’s inspired answer to the question of ‘can only bad come from being raised in dangerous, fragmented and impoverished areas?’ Depicting flawlessly dressed and gorgeously made-up Cape Flat girls on the eve of their matric dance, a seminal moment linked to the accomplishment of school graduation, the series captures the hope, aspiration and sense of achievement that can live within even the most depressing of environments. The contrast between the brightly clad women and their drab, often derelict surroundings is striking, and speaks volumes in itself.

A New Beginning

Enamoured with the dignity and pride of new Xhoso and Sotho initiates, Araminta photographed these boys-turned-men with the aim of illuminating the new sense of beginning following their watershed transition from childhood to adulthood. The initiation process, a highly secret ritual that takes place in the bush, is followed by an up to 6-month period during which the new man will wear clothing which denotes his transformation and his acquired maturity and responsibility. A great source of pride for both the individuals and the surrounding community, the coming-of-age is accompanied by stringent rules associated with dress and behaviour. “New” Xhosa men, or Amakrwala, wear blazers, buttoned-up shirts, and hats. Trousers and shoes must be smart. “New” Sotho men, or Makolwane, wear traditional blankets, hats, and beads. 

Entrance Fee for “Transformations” at Casa Labia Gallery

There is no entrance fee to view the exhibition; it’s FREE, MAHALA, nothing! Casa Labia Gallery hours are from 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

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Find out more about what's on during the Cape Town Month of Photography.

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