Sabelo Mlangeni: Men Only

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MICHAEL STEVENSON


‘Mans Tehuis’

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Sabelo Mlangeni’s Men Only series focuses on the George Goch hostel on the East Rand of Johannesburg. Built in 1961 to house migrant mineworkers, today the hostel is home to taxi drivers and security guards, among the many who continue to move to Jozi to better their lives. Only men are allowed in this and other such hostels, giving rise to a certain curiosity about life inside. In the collective imaginary they are places of violence, sexual abuse and illegal trafficking. ‘It is these imaginings,’ says Mlangeni, ‘that led me to photograph life in these buildings, going beyond the stereotypes and trying to capture the normality that exists in an abnormal, unnatural situation,’ However, he acknowledges, ‘my curiosity and maleness weren’t enough to gain me access to this private world’. Men’s hostels are not easily approachable places, both practically and visually, and it took him two years to develop the trust and familiarity he needed. An immigrant to the city himself, Mlangeni found the lives that are revealed through his lens to be ‘as complex as I imagined and at times as a familiar as my own skin’. The photographer spent several weeks in the hostel as a resident, sharing the daily routines of the tenants as he worked, aiming to show their lives with clarity and honesty. ‘I did not choose to be invisible, but ended up blending with the people in the hostel. I became one of them. I spent so long there that they never really cared what I was doing. I tried not to be influenced by preconceived ideas, not to take a predetermined perspective towards the presence of violence, homosexuality or sexual abuse. All these issues blend into the pace of life, sometimes in very subtle ways, other times in outbursts.’ Some of the photographs allude to harsh living conditions and the tensions that develop among men when there are no mediations by sisters, mothers or wives. However, this uneasiness is sublimated: the aggressiveness is never too explicit. Other images are quiet, even tender, capturing daily chores such as cooking and ironing. The grade is soft; gestures and shapes are often not in focus and this contributes to the feeling of a place of transit, where boundaries are not sharply defined. Some photographs show only details of arms, hands, feet: they give clues to relationships and dynamics among the residents, but they do not explain them. Most of the men don’t know each other and yet share their private daily routines, becoming intimate to an extent. Others are ‘special friends’, as Mlangeni says, and their portraits respect the delicate conditions in which more personal relationships are lived. In Mlangeni’s images the hostel reveals itself as a transitional space. Segregation remains a defining characteristic of the institution, yet it is not impermeable and the pressures and dynamics of the outside world inevitably filter in. The hostel becomes a fragile shell in which elements of the public and private realms temporarily coexist. Federica Angelucci

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Mandoza

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Barbershop

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Watching TV

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Usbali visits the hostel

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Room visit

Bheka’s room

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Small business

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Vusi’s photographic studio

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Mshana

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Roommates

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Pro Nxumalo

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Ijongo – Thandani Mvelase

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Abangani

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Zakhe Zwide

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Nipple

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‘Twinkle Snax’

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Dry pipes

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Old-fashioned

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Rolling on

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Morning blues

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‘Contract’

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Izimbadada

Abamelwane

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Tihlobo

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‘Where is Zuma coming from, he must go back’

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Mhla ngivakashe eGoli

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Adult world

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Cleaning

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Men only

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George Goch stadium

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Freedom in progress

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Practising for indlamu competition

Sabelo Mlangeni was born in Driefontein near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga in 1980. He

Catalogue no 46 November 2009

moved to Johannesburg in 2001 and joined the Market Photo Workshop, graduating in 2004.

Cover image Morning blues, 2009

He won the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts in 2009, and the Edward Ruiz Mentorship Award in 2006. His first solo show, Invisible Women, took place at Warren Siebrits, Johannesburg, in

Michael Stevenson, Buchanan Building, 160 Sir Lowry

2007. Group exhibitions include A Look Away: South African photography today at Kuckei +

Road, Woodstock 7925, Cape Town, South Africa

Kuckei, Berlin (2008); I am Not Afraid: The Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg at Camera

Tel +27 (0)21 462 1500 | info@michaelstevenson.com

Austria, Graz (2007); and Johannesburg Circa Now at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (2005).

www.michaelstevenson.com Editor Sophie Perryer | Design Gabrielle Guy

All photographs Silver gelatin prints, 2008/9, various dimensions, editions of 7 + 2AP

Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town



MICHAEL STEVENSON


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