“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” isn’t just a saying – more and more, it has come to mean embracing different ideas of what has traditionally been considered beautiful. This includes scars, stretch marks and conditions like vitiligo, which is depigmentation on sections of the skin.
Vitiligo has long been misunderstood and people who had the condition went to great lengths to try cover it up – well-known South African actress Leleti Khumalo has admitted that she used to apply make-up for hours to try hide her vitiligo. But that’s no longer the case. There is increasing recognition and appreciation of the individuality and beauty that it imbues the individual with. It is that appreciation and celebration of individuality that lies at the heart of Reatile Moalusi’s latest exhibition Molelo Wa Badimo, which opened at Absa Gallery on 5 May and will run until 14 June 2019.
Moalusi’s exhibition is a three-part character portrait series – Complexion, Pigment and Hue – and delves into vitiligo. It explores and debunks the myths around the condition, and documents individuals’ life experiences using collaborative character portrait photography – all with the aim of raising awareness about vitiligo. “Molelo Wa Badimo seeks to inspire a renewed dialogue about beauty by dispelling societal myths about vitiligo and focusing on identity and self-acceptance,” says Moalusi. “Metaphorically, Molelo Wa Badimo illustrates a fusion of opposites (white and black), an element of the new South Africa (the rainbow nation) and the coexistence of opposites in one.”
Part one of the exhibition, Complexion, was shot in 2012 using large format photography to showcase and highlight each individual’s character. They were all photographed in studio, in sharp contrast with the photos from part two – Pigment – which were taken on location using only natural ambient light. This use of light against a backdrop of wildlife represents a spiritual and cultural connection to the ancestors and to being gifted.
The third part of the exhibition, Hue, documents and showcases the lives of people living with vitiligo in colour as a way of looking beyond the skin and its condition, focusing on the individuals’ life and their relationships while growing up with vitiligo. To underscore their individuality, these images were shot in locations of the individuals choosing.
“Complexion, Pigment and Hue are each a collection of portraits that convey a real sense of character by capturing the embodied contrasts of vitiligo,” Moalusi says.
Molelo Wa Badimo is a perfect example of Moalusi’s quest to use his artistic talent to bring awareness to a range of societal issues, inspired by South Africans challenging the traditional ideals of beauty and identity.
“This aligns with Absa Gallery’s commitment to showcasing the rich artistic talent Africa has and providing these artists with the platforms necessary to be bold and bring their possibilities to life,” says Thabo Seshoka, Associate Art Curator at Absa Gallery.
Located in Absa Towers North, the open-air space around the Absa Gallery was designed with art in mind and has been able to shine a spotlight on the work of leading South African artists since it opened its doors. It is open Monday to Friday, from 08:00 to 16:00, and visitors need to bring identification for entry into exhibitions.