On breaking rules and #FreetheNipple! Joburg photographer Zoha talks importance of representation

“Women should love themselves and their skin, and their flaws. The world shouldn’t fear or be disgusted by the female body. Black women are amazing and beautiful,” proclaims Zoha, the Botswana-born, Johannesburg-based photographer better known as Van de Aarde, which translates to “From the Earth”.  

Zoha self-describes as “confident but fragile” on Instagram, and the images echoes this, managing to be both hauntingly vulnerable and striking. Her photography, which is evocative and otherworldly in all the right ways, speaks to the #FreetheNipple movement and challenges representation of black women in photography.

Van de Aarde recently shared the below image on Instagram and stated: “The fact that I can’t show the nipple on Instagram is why it should be freed … Insta may make the rules but if the users weren’t bothered by female nipples then things would change”.

It’s important to Zoha to be transparent and authentic in her work “I feel that, just as with Photoshop, there is a time and place for makeup, but when you’re trying to show people who you really are, or trying to depict people authentically then they should be natural,” according to the photographer.

Zoha’s photography isn’t just about showcasing the female body, but about celebrating and representing the black women in photography, clothed or not. “When I first started taking photographs I didn’t realise the lack of black women in photography – or rather, that people prefer to photograph other women because it’s the norm,” she says.

Photography isn’t Zoha’s only creative pursuit; and often shares written work via Instagram captions; from short, poetic phrases to entire chunks of Joker-and-Harley-Quinn fanfiction to extracts from a personal journal. Follow Zoha.

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