Meet Toka Hlongwane, a 30 year old street photographer working as a television Director and Producer. Toka was born and raised in Thokoza and Vosloorus both on the east of Joburg. Toka is like any other township kid.
“It wasn’t easy while growing up but my parents did the best they could to ensure that I understand and value life.”
Amongst my daily work, I still make provision for my photography which has surpassed all passions in my career right now. It has been a steady climb tapping into that market of the art world, but I can’t complain much because after all I am a street photographer.
In the past two years though as I have become a better lens narrator I have been awarded opportunities to showcase my work locally and abroad, with several exhibitions here and there which have been opened up avenues and opportunities for the future.
What My Art Speaks of
Most of my work addresses the economical position of black people in post-apartheid South Africa through my subjects own narratives. I am also fascinated by class and how we have gone from a united people pre 94 and have become classist society that no longer raises a child together but sees it as burden to part take in the child’s life i.e. the idea of Black Tax and how we have now started viewing it through white goggles.
I also explore the urban cultures we have created and now have become part of our identity as people of color in townships. I also interrogate presence and existence through space and time, trying to understanding how presence supersedes immediate time and space through rebirth, memory and footprints. Some of my work also discusses sexuality and sex, and the relationship we have with the two, as well as the education or lack off around these topics.
My Artworks that their meaning
*Witness, is from a series about how street lights are symbols of classism. As you would know that the big incandescent lights in most township (the ones we refer to as Apollos), were erected by the apartheid government to aid night vision for emergency air strikes to be carried out on townships. Aside from that, they are sporadically placed in townships alone and not anywhere else to distinguish where you and who. You notice the further you go into the not so densely populated suburbia, the more lights you get and they become fancier as you go to the more affluent areas. I have photographed a number of these different lights from the same angle in various areas of our society for series about class. A simple yet powerful way of how are divided by class even through the most basic of things.
*Baeti, is an image I took in Philipi Cape Town. It’s very personal because it reminded me that subconsciously as black people we understand that we are guests to poverty and it doesn’t at all reflect how we feel and carry ourselves. The most fanciest and stylish people live in ghettos and shanty towns. They aren’t stylish because they have social complexes or self-esteem issues. No. However, they are like that because they understand that they are guests to their current situations because deep in their core they are more than what meets the eye, where they are and who they are forever in conflict because they understand that at their core they are royalty. However long they remain guests is circumstantial and determined by them.
*They were Here is from a series about presence. The idea of presence is always associated or confused with “now” a misconception that seizes to recognize that presence itself always subsists, primordially through the action of our or its futural projection. Via footprints we leave physically or embed in memory be it pleasant or not. This series explores presence through constituents that fortify our existence, creations that came to existence through the existence of their creators who might have or not have known who will exist in those spaces they had created. This series pays homage to the infinitude of both creators and users of these spaces which remain present both physically and in memory.
My Understanding of Art
My personal understanding of art is that it’s not just limited to creating dialogue or highlighting society’s issues. However, as a black person I understand that it is also at times a spiritual ritual with a deeper purpose than just being marvelled at. Certain tones and patterns relay messages and prayers, some symbolise various stages of people’s lives. For example Khoisan rock art as we have come to know it wasn’t just done by some bored guy for kicks. Instead it was a pre-hunting ritual to beg the gods for the animal they needed and by doing that when they go out their animal would identify itself and make for easy prey. So art isn’t just a commodity or a medium of instruction for a curriculum we can’t teach on a daily. Hence art carries and invokes feelings.
Toka Hlongwane’s Life Journey.
I got into art at a young age, initially as a spoken word artist and rapper. Through that space of music and spoken word I got introduced to other mediums of expression and acting became one of them. Lebza from Hidden Force and Deep Level hooked me up an agency’s number and the first job I did was being an extra on a HHP music video. That’s when I took interest in the film industry. In 2010 I completed my matric and enrolled at Boston Media House where I studied Television Production and Journalism and from then I started honing my craft to where I am today.
I started as a production assistant for various production companies and then went to intern as script translator and worked as a photojourn. Within that space of Photo journalism I developed a passion and understanding of unsung human lives that exist among us. So when I left photo journalism I didn’t leave my camera and the prodigious lessons I had learned in that space behind.
At the same time I landed a job as junior producer for a production company in Cape Town and I moved down there. In 5 years I have went on to produce a SAFTA award winning children’s extreme sports show called Xcellerate, which scooped the award at the 2018 ceremony for best Children’s Program. The show is on SABC3. I also directed another show for SABC2 called Back from Zero, a financial literacy.
The Challenges of an Artist
The main challenge for me is monetary, because, as artists we don’t have the assurance of a monthly pay cheque, uif, medical aid and so forth. So one needs to be savvy and not extremely thrifty with their cash when they have it. Because when you don’t, you find yourself sacrificing the time you should be working on your craft on making money. So it has been a constant contrast for me. Where I would be working on a show I am not passionate about for months on end just so that I can sustain myself for a year or so. So that time lost is never recovered.
Breaking into spaces to exhibit my work has also been somewhat a bit of struggle, but that I always think is an internal issue that I need to asses and see how I can make my work more accessible. As a self-taught artists, PR and Marketing isn’t my forte and navigating a space of artists who went to art school becomes difficult.
There is a lot of detail that you miss and don’t know about in the art space and how to sell or present yourself as an artist. So it’s a challenge I am trying to resolve by empowering myself with as much knowledge as I can access.
I have learnt not to have much expectations in all I do. My focus is on the immediate input I impart in any particular project I take on. However, I would like to learn and exchange as much knowledge with people who come across my art, and I hope that I never misrepresent anyone through my work.