Photographer and artist Reatile Moalusi from Krugersdorp on the West Rand has been in the industry for just over 10 years and he is determined to debunk the mystery and myths around vitiligo.
It’s said that the condition isn’t fully understood and, therefore, there isn’t a medical cure or a way to stop the spread of the white spots that appear on the dermis of the skin.
The 36-year-old’s interest in vitiligo was peaked when he met a young lady living with the condition and was not covering her skin in make-up. He then decided he wanted to photograph her. This led to the series that he is currently exhibiting in the hopes of changing the way that society perceives vitiligo.
“I saw beauty and wondered how this beauty is created,” said Moalusi. ‘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.”
The concept behind his series, titled Molelo Wa Badimo (The ancestors’ fire), seeks to inspire a renewed dialogue about beauty by dispelling societal and cultural myths about vitiligo and focusing on identity and self-acceptance.
Moalusi says he’s giving the world a peek through his eyes. “I decided to do a body of work that concluded in an eight-year project. The series isn’t complete but the first part is about complexion. The other two parts will roll out as we progress.”
His series takes place in three parts: complexion, pigment and hue. Each are a collection of portraits that convey a real sense of character by capturing the embodied contrasts of vitiligo.
“Part one of my exhibitions, complexion, was shot in 2012 using large-format photography to showcase and highlight each individual’s character through form and close-up detail,” he says.
“They were all photographed in a studio in sharp contrast with the photos from part two, pigment, which was taken on location using only natural, ambient light.”
Moalusi says his use of light against a backdrop of wildlife represents a spiritual and cultural connection to the ancestors. “The third part of the exhibitions, hue, is a more interactive, multimedia part,” he says.
“It 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’ lives and their relationships while growing up with vitiligo.”
To underscore individuality, the images were shot in locations of the individual’s choosing. Hue thus put control in the hands of the individual by them choosing the final images for the exhibition and how they were represented.
“I have to explore deeper the different ideologies related to the skin condition, both locally and internationally,” says Moalusi. “Furthermore, the works need to have access to mass public platforms to better educate people about the dangers of stigma on the lives of those it’s imposed on.”
Moalusi hopes his series will lead to a comprehensive understanding of belief systems in Africa and the world over, where vitiligo and other skin conditions are concerned.
The artist’s one-of-a-kind work has already caught the attention of international publications. Moalusi says that he would like to exhibit locally and internationally on continents such as South America, Africa and Asia. Part of his vision is to break the barriers of stigma.
“Colour divides and classifies us,” he explains. “If we can break down those walls, even visually, we will have achieved something positive.”
- The exhibition takes place at the Absa Towers North in the Absa Gallery, Johannesburg;
- The exhibition is open Monday to Friday from 8am until 4pm;
- Visitors are required to bring along identification for entry into the exhibition;
- The exhibition runs until June 14; and
- For more information, call Thabo Seshoka, Absa associate art curator, on 011-350-7533 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org