21.01 - 27.02.2022
Luvuyo Equiano Nyawose characterises the photo series, eBhish’, as an interruption of the Archive of Black beachgoers, which is in need of re-reading and re-questioning in his eyes. Through film and photography, he attempts to re-inscribe some Black experiences into the record.
The ocean is the key witness to Nyawose’s re-inscription: a function it serves naturally in his formulation of it as a subject that holds memory. In Nyawose’s work, the ocean is more than a site of capitalist leisure; it is a meeting place where Black people engage with its unnameable spiritual force, as substantiated by various Nguni aquatic myths. eBhish’ documents Black life at the beach, teases the historical articulations of ‘beaching’ for leisure, and explores the concepts of amphibious history and liquid archives.
Nyawose is wary of labelling his a counter archive, though he concedes that Archives with a capital A are constructed by the State to control what and how we remember. They are grounded in a national identity that informs the values, norms, and beliefs of a society. Historical Archives of eThekwini’s beachfront manipulate power by excluding non-white experiences of seaside leisure. When they are included, Black people are depicted as a labour force that drives rickshaws and cares for white children. White experience is positioned as the singular truth.
By design, Black bodies are not seen at leisure even though Archival documents of eThekwini’s first African beach exist. The objectives of the apartheid State required that Black bodies be seen in the background performing tasks. This directive takes cognisance of the fact that leisure spaces are legitimised by social and political norms, which are communicated by photographs and maps.
Archives, as they are linked to memory, contain evidence of what went before. They validate shared experiences, perceptions, and narratives. With the disappearance of traditional life and the decimation of the extended family, memory based on shared and personal storytelling is no longer possible, leaving the Archive as the foundation of historical understanding. Without it memory falters, accomplishments fade, and pride dissipates.
Although formal Archives inform Nyawose’s work, they are not the main fount of his research. His aim, in the construction of eBhish’, is to create what Carlos Amorales calls a “liquid archive”, which collects and catalogues historical records more fluidly than a fixed Archive. Liquid archives are malleable, thus they generate meaning in unforeseen ways. Due to this quality, Nyawose’s photo series sidesteps the historically dominant documentation of white ‘beaching’, and acknowledges Black leisure with images that are disobedient and unreliable. There is no intention to ‘fill gaps’ or respond to existing Archives over and above the primary goal, which is to acknowledge a Black oceanic presence eThekwini in its intimacy and dignity.
For Nyawose, the photo series cradles a life-cycle of which he is an irrevocable part. He sees the child he once was in the kids photographed, and the elder he will be as he returns to the beach for two weeks in December each year until he dies.
Although Nyawose claims that eBhish’ speaks not to central Archives, nor amends them in any way, his photo series cannot help but be a response to the sins of omission and commission perpetrated against the Black body by State Archives. The intimacy and tenderness which he centralises in the project is necessitated by the callousness with which the Black body is addressed in narratives of officialdom. It is the antidote to the hysteria with which Black ‘beaching’ is policed. One need only mention Penny Sparrow to evoke the ways in which Black leisure is stultified by the white gaze. In response to this scrutiny, Nyawose honours the Black beach experience eThekwini with a series of clean images.
He stresses that he did not want room for obstruction in this iteration of eBhish’, while remembering to have fun and experiment a little. Film cameras suffered water damage as Nyawose waded in, but that was fine, “I wanted to go in,” he affirms. Some works were made before the festive season but the fine art photographer quotes production time at two-and-a-half years. The tentative plan is to add to the liquid archive that is eBhish’ as the photographer’s yearly visitation recurs, but beyond that there are no immediate plans to release new work for at least a few years.
“Take your time,” advises Nyawose, who admits that he has been overwhelmed by the positive reception of his photo series since July 2021. Plans he is prepared to divulge include a photo book that he wants to release independently, getting licensed for drone photography, and making films.