Lebo Mashalane is a 26 year old South African creative based out of Joburg. Lebo studied Fashion Journalism at the University of the Arts in London, and she’s been working as a photography assistant since returning to Joburg two years ago. since graduating, Lebo has found it hard to work on her own projects, and she spent a lot of time doing work that paid the bills but didn’t stimulate her creatively. “I kept taking and taking from the world but not giving anything back out of fear that it wouldn’t be good enough,” she says, going on to describe how I Love it When You Call Me Names feels like the creative break through that she has been searching for for the past two years.
I Love It When You Call Me Names is a celebration of the strength and sexuality of black women. The project explores BDSM culture and its interactions with black womanhood, but Lebo is clear that the shoot did not intend to politicise or radicalise black women’s bodies, “Black bodies have and continue to be a battleground for exercising power, ownership and control. Black bodies, like all bodies, are versatile. They can be soft, engaging and innocent. They don’t always have to be sexualised and objectified for the male gaze. On the other hand, black bodies too can be overtly sexual and hypersexual.”
For Lebo, it was important to do the project as a black woman with the help and participation of other black women, in order to represent themselves in the most honest and real way possible. The use of BDSM elements and aesthetics helped to create the narrative of women who are strong and comfortable in their sexuality, and who take full control and agency of their bodies and their sexuality. Lebo believes that “BDSM has empowered women who want to exercise total choice and agency within the Dom/Sub dynamic without having to think or worry about the limitations of patriarchy.”
Lebo describes her influences for this shoot, both visual and otherwise: “These images are inspired by Japanese photographer and artist Nobuyoshi Araki. He was known for photographing women in bondage in incredibly intimate settings. He also photographed flowers and plants and drew similarities between femininity, sex and nature. ‘I Love It When You Call Me Names‘ is a song by one of my favourite artists, Joan Armatrading.”
She describes the lyrics of the song, which describe a BDSM relationship, but Lebo gets more than just the literal interpretation out of the music: “They [the lyrics] also reveal how art sometimes channels a hyper reality that can transcend the original context in which it was written. Finally, this song, as well as the title, feels like a necessary reminder that black women artists, photographers, singers and BDSM performers are just as capable as entering the world of boundary-pushing roles. Sex is not necessarily violent, but it can be. Sex also is not necessarily abrasive or vulgar, but it can be. The violent, gritty and sometimes abrasive nature of BDSM can be a spectacle that serves no other purpose than to be marvelled at.”
Creative Direction: Lebo Mashalane
Photography: Lebo Mashalane
Bondage/Rope Tying Expert & assistant: Sophie Mjwara