Feni and a drain on dignity

People passing an open toilet at Lunglie Train Station, Site C, Khayelitsha. A photograph from the Drain on Our Dignity exhibition.

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BY BILLY SUTER

A NEW photographic art exhibition, Drain on Our Dignity by Masixole Feni, will run from September 5 in the Main and Mezzanine galleries at Durban’s KZNSA Gallery in Glenwood.

Feni is an award-winning photographer whose images have been described as visually stunning yet confronting the harsh truths of life in South Africa, specifically in the Western Cape.

Scheduled to run until September 24, the exhibition saw Feni emerge as the winner of the Ernest Cole Award, 2015, for his project  and will coincide with the launch of his book of the same name.

Masixole Feni’s photo of an undrinkable water canal entrance to Khayelitsha.

An activist photographer who has worked for GroundUp and Social Justice Coalition, documenting social issues around Cape Town, Feni won the Ernest Cole Award for focusing his camera on the lack of service delivery and the life of the marginalised.

“I live at the back of an RDP house in Mfuleni on the Cape Flats. I experience issues like poor sanitation, access to clean water and the flooding first hand,” he explains in a press release.

Sixty years after the anniversary of the Freedom Charter which campaigned for basic human rights – one person, one vote – as well South Africa’s democracy, many South Africans still find themselves struggling for basic living conditions.

“Marginalised people were neglected by the apartheid regime. Twenty-three years into our democracy, it is a reality that has stayed the same for many,” says Feni in the press release.

Feni’s work echoes the groundbreaking images produced by Ernest Cole in the early 1960s, showing black life under apartheid. Cole’s book, called House of Bondage, published when he was in exile and immediately banned, reflected on the lives of the marginalised and the poor. It became a universal reference point for anyone who wanted to know more about the apartheid system.

Feni travelled throughout local townships to explore life from this perspective and develop a book and exhibition.

Observing Feni’s work, spatial researcher and architect, Ilze Wolff, who wrote the introduction to the book, notes: “His visualisation of inequality, structural violence and his own imaginative response through photography is in itself a reflection on human creativity, despite the limits put forward by power.”

For Feni, living in the margins of Cape Town make him angry.

“‘Every day we read about people’s anger and frustration but we don’t get to see the other side.”

However, for Feni, his work transcends the mere record of this life to show the resilience of people who make a dignified life under difficult and unjust conditions.

Feni’s book, A Drain on Our Dignity, is published by Jacana Media.

Another striking image from Masixole Feni’s Drain on Our Dignity exhibition.
Township sanitation. A row of the Mshengu communal toilets is visible as you enter Khayelitsha. A photo from Drain on Our Dignity.

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