Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts
WORDS BY MLILO MPONDO
From the emergence of classic rock in 1970’s Botswana, metal music has since become a prolific feature in Botswana’s Music scene. Irreverent and dissenting from all orthodox prescriptions of what it means to be black and African, evolved a subculture of black metal heads known as the
Marok. The Marok, which has since 2011 enjoyed a global audience, presents a stark contrast to the typical desolate image portrayed of Africa. However, as is expected, there is a glaring over representation of the masculine narrative at the expense of its female counterpart. It is this forgotten narrative of the eccentric black woman in rock, which South African born photographer Paul Shiakallis sought to unearth in his work Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts.
Adorned in tassels and leather, polished spikes and ornament belt buckles pinned to silver heads with gaping eyes at their waists, invite their sensuality in feminine leather tights and pieces of bare skin. They have cemented their place in the movement. These women are an enigma and are far removed from the docile inanimate global representation of black women.
Set among ordinary and familiar surroundings, extended farm lands, endless skies, white domestic walls, worn sofas and tired kitchen cupboards; these women, some mothers and others wives, are a blunt rebellion amidst the ordinary of their lives. Dressed as though prepared for battle, head regalia fit for queens and capes of black magic, they invite the imagination to wonder about their place in the world.
For over eight months Shiakallis has immersed himself in the chasms of their alter egos, fascinated by the way in which these women escape the four walls and wired fences of social conditioning and enter into the infinite possibilities that the darkness holds. What is it about the night that flirts with freedom, what is it about metal music that seduces individuality?
His photography is a conversation between the fluidity of identity and its many faces, how it reveals and hides itself. It engages the archetypal structure of African culture and the remolding of these structures by the queens of Marok, in a way which reflects their passions and desires. The work translates the way in which various modes of identity are transferred between day and night, the placid reality of life in Botswana versus the depiction of colorful individuality on social media, the loyalty to one’s family name versus the liberty in a pseudonym. It is this very fluidity that exudes a sensuality and strength in the Marok women of Botswana, the wearers of leathered skin and warriors with unchained hearts.