Soweto-born photographer Musa N. Nxumalo shoots candid black and white images of fellow young South Africans as they party it up on the Jozi social scene. Capturing varying degrees of fun and debauchery, Musa explores the attitudes of a group of young people who are trying to define themselves. His photographs offer commentary on contemporary culture, notions of identity and the journey to self-discovery.
Musa was awarded the Edward Ruiz Mentorship in 2008, and this was when he started his work on Alternative Kidz and In/Glorious, the two projects making up his In Search Of… exhibition which opens on April 9th at Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg. During this time he attended Market Photo Workshop, where he honed his skills and developed a penchant for documentary style photography. Shooting portraits and scenes from everyday life (or nightlife, in this case), Musa draws on this style and makes it his own. With cropped images, blurred focus and off-centre compositions, he breaks the rules of what constitutes traditionally “good” photography. His images are spontaneous and of the moment, reflecting the turbulence and vivaciousness of youth.
Listening to rap music in high school first sparked Musa’s creativity which he now uses to provide the world with fresh perspectives and ideas. His self-professed aim is to communicate to society at large the issues that he and his peers battle with as an urban black youth, particularly from the townships. These struggles include many things: a battle with generational circles of family dysfunction, alcohol or drug abuse, illiteracy, lack of education and lacking a sense of purpose. The subjects of his photographs represent a movement of the black youth in Johannesburg towards alternative culture, a phenomenon described by art writer and journalist Sean O’Toole as, “Soweto’s skinny jeans crowd, twenty-something black kids sloughing off the constraints of their assigned identities – Zulu, Xhosa, kwaito, hip hop, BEE, choose your prejudice – and doing things differently.”
As the exhibition title suggests, Musa’s photographs reflect a search for self expression and identity outside of established social norms and institutions. There is a sense of disillusionment, even anarchy, in the palpable freedom his subjects seem to both achieve and desire. For Musa, this freedom is found in self expression through photography.