Jamal Nxedlana: I Am Because You Are

Photographer Jamal Nxedlana

Words Tom Czibolya

The art of letting others shine – Johannesburg-based photographer Jamal Nxedlana captures the reality of queerness in South Africa. He creates compositions in a way that they only serve one purpose: letting others shine in front of his camera. In conversation with Container Love, we asked Jamal about how a community’s story should be told, the challenges of getting political as an African artist, and why he sees the world he creates and celebrates through his art as a part of a bigger picture.

“My work has always been community-based in the sense that it’s about letting others shine.”

“In terms of my practice, it’s about making people visible, it’s about giving them a platform to share their stories. I do believe that I am able to shine through the people I support. There is this saying “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (I am because you are) and I think my approach to art and community very much embodies this philosophy.”

Jamal also believes that being political is something that is entirely up to the individual: “We all come from different backgrounds and we all have different experiences. I can’t speak for anyone else but myself. But I do hope that people would want to engage in politics more. Let’s not forget that political statements aren’t necessarily obvious and they can be quite personal too. Frankly, in places like South Africa you are already political just by existing. So if you can contribute by creating something that helps people by giving them new ideas or bringing them together, do it. You don’t need to spend years and years at a university studying politics or gender or race to get engaged in these topics. At the end of the day, it’s the nuances, the smallest things you can think of, that really make a difference.”