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About Russel Thokozani
Russel Thokozani Kana: A Holy Photography
by: Jessica Manim
The work of Russel Thokozani Kana is quietly meditative, deeply spiritual and achingly intimate. From discarded bricks swimming beneath murky rivers and fractured tv sets left on barren land to intimate portraits of children and men, his images speak where word would fail.
Russel describes his main photography essay at present as being a memoir, a project which he says was born long before he was given the vision to see it. This vision came to him when he first arrived in Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s east coast. One night he awoke to his spirit speaking words, a voice echoing a mission and path. The word he heard were: “Capture the innocence of life, for there lies truth and the image of creation.” And so began his essay Memoir, a project now five years in the making. These words stuck to him and echo through each of his carefully considered creations.
Russel began his visionary mission in the townships as felt a call to change the widely held image of black life in these diverse settlements. He describes the people of the township as a proud people; people who love their country and their fellow countrymen; a people who honour nature, their past and their philosophies. Memoir seeks to re-instil and depict these images, turning around the misconceptions that many still hold. For his base he chose Noxolo, his mother’s home, which allowed him unrestricted access in meeting people in an otherwise foreign territory. A township close to the city, he’d travel easily between his mother’s home and his own by taxi, steeping himself in a life he deeply connected with.
Memoir has predominantly focused on capturing the essence of people of Noxolo. As time passed and Russel grew more comfortable behind the lens and within the community, so he began seeing the people in the inanimate objects that surrounded them, from doors and walls to chairs and discarded objects. These objects intimately express the aura of the people of Noxolo in a way that is softly surprising. There’s something about these images of inanimate objects that expresses a deep meditation, a quiet sense of self that is deeply considered. To touch on it in words seems almost sacrilegious as each is steeped in feeling that is almost holy.
The title Memoir was preceded by the thought to entitle the series Formative Frames, as ‘frame’ refers attitude, idea or context. Thus it fits snugly in with what Russel is trying to achieve – a reimagining of concepts associated with a township, a revisiting of old thought patterns allowing the rebirth of vision. Through Russel’s eyes viewers are taken aback by the township world, so close to so many South Africans and yet, incredibly foreign. Boys leap joyously into muddy pools of water; children are swung about in youthful abandon; and men contemplate us from outside apparently dilapidated homesteads, with a gentle sense of pride and a spark of happiness etched in their faces. Through Russel’s lens a field of grass or an overturned chair become more than what they are. They speak of the people surrounding them, the history of the land and the spirit and spirituality of the place. Rather than being dogmatic, the collection feels like a communication with Russel as the conduit between them and the world.
Russel’s philosophy of seeking the image rather than constructing it, is apparent in each image and his love of exploration and discovery is easily sensed as one flips through his images. His attention to the movement of grass or the geometry of shattered mirror is not the sort that can be created. As he explains, “Photography is my devotion; it is my communion with my creator and creation. I believe to think is a spiritual act; to work is a spiritual act; to photograph is a spiritual act. My vision is spiritual and I am a spirit being.” Which takes us back to the quiet holiness in his works, a sense that he sees beyond what before of him to a world that is steeped in the divine, in ritual and in worship.
Russel describes his newest project as a love letter. “This work is within an escapism framework and has been inspired by love, nature and the feel of a season's end,” he says. “In this work I’m interested in pushing my own frontier in communicating through objects their and the power of association.” For him, escapism is a vessel to venture beyond frames to a field of pure potential. “It is a journey with intuition, a journey with silence and with the spirit of natural elements quieting the heart and kindling a connection with the Great Spirit,” he explains. “Escapism is a deconstruction of meaning and devotion to beauty and truth.” This is a sentiment that permeates throughout his work, lifting it into a realm many achieve to reach but few fail to grasp.
Russel Thokozani Kana’s work is the kind that sticks with your soul, revisiting you in quiet moments and returning in dreams. While still in the formative steps of his path, his works have already begun to capture the innocence of life, truth and the image of creation in a way that is hauntingly beautiful.
•2009 December: Who’s who , Nelson Mandel art Museum, Port Elizabeth
•2009 July Work is selected for Pretoria.
•2009 July: Port Elizabeth Academy of arts showcase; National Arts
•2009 July: Impression National Arts Festival.
•2008 Month of people photography; Cape Town.
•2008 Re- flex; Nelson Mandela Municipality Art Museum.
•2008 Isolezwe; Constitution Hill; Johannesburg.
•2007 Isolezwe; Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
•2009 Artists Showcase: Freeriddim
•2009 Artists showcase: onesmallseed
•2009 summer Portrait exhibition Gallery591; Sweden.
•2009: Sharp Art Magazine.
•2008: Quartaz Art Journal.
•2008: The Madiba Action Eastern Cape Journal.
•2008 The Independent Newspaper.
•2008 Sunday Times.
•2007 The Herald.
•Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum.
•2008 October: Awarded Merit Certificate by the Arts and Culture Society in photography.
•2007: Won major award in a HSRC photographic exhibition. Photograph to be on the annual
Television and Radio-
2008: Ukhozi FM; National Radio Station
2008: Morning Live- SABC TV
2008: SA FM
2008: Ingqubelo Fm
3yr Study Course on Photography, NMMU
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