Artist Spotlight: Palesa Kgasane

Growing up, Palesa Kgasane saw the potential of an audience. With unapologetic confidence, she would entertain her family and friends as an outlet of expressing herself. Now a rising star in the buzzing South African creative fashion world, she is rewriting the history of women of color by documenting the many faces and facets that they behold on her  notable platform, Mzansi Moodboard. Inspired by her matriarchy and indelible African icons such as Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie, Palesa employs the flawless fashion sense of her elders to her creative direction and matchless fashion finesse. Unimpressed by labels and pop-boxes, Palesa is breaking the mould by leveraging her creative eye and expressing a hard-to-hear but necessary truth and visibility of creative WoC.

Palesa Kgasane / Photo by Alexa Sedgewick

Palesa Kgasane / Photo by Alexa Sedgewick

When did you realize that you were interested in fashion styling? What inspired your choice of film and photography to document your art?

I think I knew from a young age that I loved fashion, largely attributed to my mother’s great sense of style and all the glamorous women I would see when we watched TV. They seemed so confident. I think that’s what I liked about clothes, how they make people feel. Expressing myself was sort of second nature. When I was younger I just wanted to entertain, whether it was singing or writing, I always ended up taking part in things that involved entertaining people. Picking up a camera for the first time and documenting myself and my friends back in high school was something I did for fun. I remember how I insisted that we always take pictures. I edited them and put them on Facebook. That was the thing then. And now, I do it as a means of sharing my narrative with people and that of other black womyn.

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

What were the images of women of color that you saw growing up in South Africa? Did that observation inspire your art today?

I never saw enough images of women of colour. That was why I had to start creating them, for myself. I realised that history was not very accommodating of brown girls who aren’t thin and outspoken and who don’t fit in. Therefore, creating and writing was always an outlet for me. Solitude inspired me. That and strong womyn who also stuck it to the man; Brenda Fassie, Miriam Makeba and Lebo Mathosa.

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

The visual representation of queer and nonbinary femmes of color seems integral to your art. What motivates your choice of your subject matter? Why do you think it is important to create this content at this time?

The honest answer is that there isn’t enough out there. I don’t create having those labels in mind, I am not a fan of labels and boxes. I do what I do from a place of truth, I try to. But I used to try to hide who I am for a very long time, as a queer femme womyn. It has been really difficult coming to grips with my own truths, but I am grateful to have been able to be in spaces where I could come into my own. Creating is a means of surviving. It is important for me to be and exist beyond the impositions the world puts on me; whether it be as a black womyn, a queer womyn, or a ‘plus-size’ person. My subject matter is always going to be what is closest to home, intentional and also sometimes not. I’m always going to be black first and a womyn too, those are things that give me a certain primacy in the world. I hope to make something positive out of these realities.

In your direction, what are the key ingredients needed for a killer, relevant production?

Patience. I’m basically a one womyn show and the pressure to constantly be creating is overwhelming. Be patient with yourself and the people around you. Not everyone will get it but you just need to trust your gut. Be truthful and authentic. That goes with not doing things for the sake of doing them but knowing what you hope to achieve at the end of the day. For people to feel a sense of black joy and pride after engaging with my work is important for me. Nothing exists in isolation. And lastly, genuine love for what you do. That can be really difficult when you are a solo ranger like me but loving what you do is so important.

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

At the foundation of it all, artists create what they know; what does your art says about Palesa the person? How has your family upbringing, and your localization, influenced your views on the representation of WoC in the media?

I grew up in a small town. Home is where I return but leaving home was also the only way I was able to find myself after high-school. I went through a lot, both good and bad, which brought me to the person I am today. I owe a lot to my supportive mother, who never gave up on me and would fund every dream I had- whether it was going to record a demo for radio or taking a course guitar lessons or doing extra-curricular art classes, studying journalism – she believed in me refining my skills. And so I did. Being a South African womyn is beautiful and challenging. That story alone is one of survival, being a creative black womyn is filled with paradoxes and I’m learning to be patient with the process of coming into my own. I’m grateful for my upbringing, for being a moTswana girl, for the gift of writing, which to this day, appeases me.

Which are some of the fashion stables whose work you like? Who would you love to work with?

Locally, I love where African fashion is at right now. I have worked with some local desigenrs Imveli Designs and Merwe Mode. I would really love to do something with Anisa Mpungwa, ALC, Matte Nolim, Jenevieve Lyons and Oxosi. I also really love Imprint, Maxhosa and Droomer. Maybe they’ll read this and call me up ☺ .

How would you describe your personal style?

Comfortable, retro, easy.

How has being a native South African and being immersed in its rich and eclectic culture affected your styling direction?

I like to embrace being South African as much as I can, whether it’s wearing bangles or a head-wrap or a pair of earrings from a local designer. It’s been challenging sometimes wanting to buy local but not having enough of it around or it being unaffordable. My country is so beautiful and culturally rich and inspiring, I really want to work with more local designers. I really think they need more platforms and shows and stores. I am really proud of my Tswana, Sotho and Zulu heritage.

In Mzansi Moodboard, Taking it Black is a special space featuring iconic African forerunners. Who are your style icons?

My mom, obviously. Brenda Fassie and the womyn of the late 80s. I love the style back then and my family(mom, aunts and older cousins) have given me some amazing articles of clothing from back then that I wear now. I love Solange, and her style us an eclectic mix of Diana Ross meets Queen Patra. I think a lot of the black womyn that I grew up looking up to and listening to were inherently stylish; Letta Mbulu, Yvonne Chakachaka and Janet Jackson.

You’re well known for utilizing social media to document your process. How has social media been useful? Do you think it affects how people perceive your work?

Social media is a great tool if used properly. I sometimes overshare-in my personal capacity and that has been something I am learning to balance. Although a lot of the work that creatives do is very personal, letting emotions govern the things you put on social media can be really detrimental. This is also hard because you want to be truthful. With Mzansi Moodboard, I always think of what inspires me and what I would want to see from a platform like that. Although I really believe in harnessing the power of social media, it can also be laborious and the things we see can be redundant. However, there is also so much you can do; conversations to be part of, stories to share, voices to hear. Images are powerful, so can words and social media makes it that much easier to share with thousands of people. There’s a lot of negativity in the world, I want to be part of the happiness, the good stuff.

Going on to your seventh issue, what should we look forward to from Mzansi Moodboard?

Envelope breaking, non-binary content that is beautiful, powerful and truthful.

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

Photographer : Neo Baepi Creative Direction : Palesa Kgasane

You describe yourself as a Creative Visual Expressionist. What fuels your creative intentions?

Being black. Learning to love my blackness, my queerness, my otherness. Womyn. Re-writing history. Visibility. Representation. Truth. Love. Beauty of the unknown, of the strange and unapologetic black girl magic.

What do you believe is the role of the modern day Black artist?

To tell your story, to share your thoughts, even when your voice trembles, even if people say it isn’t pleasant or pretty or wanted or comfortable hear. It is your duty to do everything you possibly can to live in your truth. And I would like to believe that after that you will by default inspire those who come after you.

MremboSafi is a practising writer and visual artist presently based at Kuona Trust Centre for the Visual Arts in Nairobi, Kenya. An avid advocate of reproductive health and Nubian women’s art, her present media of preference include: digital art (photography & visual FX), writing non-fiction literature, menstrala art. Her motif is themed around menstrual health rights.