Lulu Mhlana embarked on a four month exploration of self-image after completing a part-time programme in photography at ORMS Cape Town School of Photography and being an artist in residence in Durban. The resulting ‘Ubumnyama Bam: Shades of Black’ features a series of self portraits that explore the artist’s conception of her own body in the buff.
Mhlana spent most of her life struggling with her self-image as a young black woman:
“I have vivid memories of not liking the shape, colour and size of my body when I was younger,” she says. “However, the older I get and the more experiences I have with and in my body, I’ve learnt to love myself unconditionally. I have now embarked on a journey of recording ubumnyama bam through photography.”
Being uncomfortable in your own skin is something that plagues a lot of people. Through this series a new appreciation for form and discomfort can be found in the intimate views the photographer shares by revealing the very thing she is uncomfortable with.
Self-respect and confidence are also not bound to location in this series. The artist uses various backdrops and locations in her photos. The resulting images show that, as is true of her emotions, her circumstances are changing:
“Sometimes I’m angry, sometimes I’m grateful and other times I am content. Whenever I look at my portraits I know exactly how I felt at the time of turning the camera on myself.”
Being so vulnerable in front of the camera takes courage and a great deal of passion. With this series Mhlana hopes to send the message that mainstream media sets false standards for beauty and self-respect. Comparing your own body with that of an “accomplished model” will only detract from the beauty that is unique to you.
Mhlana’s work expresses that this is where self-love begins, by accepting the body and circumstances you are in and appreciating it, talking to yourself openly and honestly and being aware of your own conceptions surrounding beauty. Not to be suppressed and led by what the media deems beautiful, but to love the unique individual that you are, regardless of where you are or how you feel at that time.
As with self-love and appreciation, ‘Ubumnyama Bam: Shades of Black’ is an ongoing project through which the artist continues to explore her own identity and image.