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Written byAziza Toeffie

Art through the eye of the lens: Who is Naba Abolova?

In the vibrant tapestry of the creative scene, I find we often overlook raw beauty when it comes to art. There is so much to be explored through so many different mediums, each to entice the senses further – which is why we’re able to find the intricacies of it as a whole through music, food, clothing etc. In this world, we are limitless and one of my favourite forms of expression in this limitlessness has to be photography and film. There’s just something so beautiful about being able to catch the realness and authenticity of a moment. This is where Naba Abolova’s work captured me.

Who is Naba Abolova? 

Abolova’ is a term of endearment used within the Bantu speaking townships, derived from the word ‘Lova’ which means to be absent or to bunk. Around 40% of the youth of today are ‘absent from work’ or in other words – unemployed. Most ranging between the ages of 24-31. Abolova is what makes up part of that percentage, however, they are the voice, the ears, eyes and heart of young black individuals trying to make a name in the creative realm. What does Naba Abolova live for in this context? Why do they exist? Because to be able to capture the rawness and beauty of what is seemingly mundane to those who haven’t lived it is their life. 

Creativity in a brown/black household setting isn’t always seen as an actual job, not something you can make money off of and live comfortably – but that’s the thing about art and creativity, we tend to lose the best parts when we become too comfortable. 

I feel like this platform they’ve built is a testament to life not being as easy, but with perseverance, ambition and a slight mindset shift, you can create something truly beautiful. In order to do that, you have to get uncomfortable and challenge yourself. 

The Lost Boys Without a Story

The majority of South Africans, whether it be the youth or the older generation, are seemingly blind to the struggles of black and brown individuals. There’s this ongoing debate about who deserves success solely based on their skin colour or background. So, if you grew up in a lower class area, you’re automatically seen as poor and ‘uneducated’, which means you need to work harder to be where you want to be. This classist race war has been ongoing for years, and oftentimes, the voice of the township or kasi is reduced to background noise. What I love about Naba Abolova is that they are actively trying to break that narrative. They are ‘The Lost Boys Without a Story’ but indeed, have many stories to tell. 

Why so blue?

Authenticity and realness in art is something we all strive for as artists. I’ve struggled with the idea of being real and being relatable on so many occasions when writing, and I believe it’s a universal language we all speak as creatives. Naba Abolova holds this close to their hearts as they create the most stunning photos, unedited and in their most raw state.

“There is a lot to be proud of if you’re born a person of colour, everyone knows that but black people.” – Zenhlanhla Myeni

The idea here is to capture the essence of a moment and find beauty within its flaws, think of it as a mirror in a way – they want to strip the mindsets of the black community and have them reflect on their beauty and self worth. This image speaks volumes because it highlights everything that society has deemed ‘ugly’ and gives the viewer a chance to see it in a different light. 

Pictured above you see a woman bare faced, naked and vulnerable. The blue hue is striking yet subtle at the same time. It doesn’t take away or distract you from the focal point of the image but rather highlights it even more. We’re looking at something mainstream media calls unattractive and yet she is beauty personified. She says ‘here I am’ as raw and unfiltered as you see.

The blue theme you see on some of their work is much more than just lighting. This is inspired by the iconic T.V series ‘YIZO YIZO’. The show itself is about the struggles surrounding students and teachers who confront corruption, violence and anarchy at their school in an attempt to put their education on the front line. The series aired in the late 90s into the early 2000s and was a household name in and out of black communities. 

A lot of filmmakers use colour to create a certain type of atmosphere and accentuate metaphors behind the stories portrayed. Season two of the series uses a lot of blue and cyan hues to express the emotions of the characters, and this inspiration has become the look and feel of Naba Abolova. It creates a sense of nostalgia and taps into deeper, more emotive feelings for those who grew up watching it.  

Here We Are As We Are: Championing Change through Art

Growing up as a mixed child, my mother being of Indian ethnicity and my father of coloured/malay ethnicity, I was always taught to shy away from my ‘colouredness’ and stick to being as white as possible. Mainly because being that way was the only way you would make a name for yourself – and not even as a creative. I found myself changing my accent, speaking in a different tone and holding conversations just enough so that I could be accepted as a brown person within the white community. We, as black/brown kids are taught that our mother tongues will leave us abandoned, our skin colour will make us fools in the rat race of this world. We are taught that you are defined by the curl of your hair or the language you use.

My parents protected me from my true self, and for a very long time, I believed that my success was owed to them in that sense. I only made it because of how I portrayed myself around those who I was taught mattered. 

When I look at Naba Abolova’s vision, their work, their art – it reminds me that there is beauty in being true to yourself no matter who’s looking. The black community struggles to accept who they are because society has robbed them of being proud of their blackness. This collective continues to fight that perspective. Not only are they challenging people to see them as more than their race, but also allowing their community to be kinder to themselves, which ultimately sends a message to all of us; 

Here we are, as we are. There is great power within art and creativity. All it takes is one moment, one painting, one poem, one picture, and we can change the world.

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