‘Groomed for Labour and Love’ Exhibition chronicles South African two legends’ work 

By: Qhawekazi Memani – 05 September 2023

On 5 – 31 August 2023, the Len Khumalo Foundation, Mike Mzileni  together with the Vaal University of Technology (VUT), Lecturer and Independent Art Curator, Ms Nkululeko Khumalo spearheaded an archival photographic exhibition at the Springs Art Gallery. The exhibition was titled “Groomed for Labour and Love,” and was the result of a collaborative effort between two legends, the late Mike Mzileni and Leornard Khumalo.

The exhibition endeavoured to transcend time, presenting a curated collection of black and white analogue images that held the power to bridge generations. This extraordinary exhibition was masterfully curated by Ms Nthabeleng Masudubele, with the co-curation expertise of Nkululeko Khumalo and Zinhle Gule, signifying a labour of love and unwavering dedication to the art of photography.

In attendance were students from diverse backgrounds, including the Bantu Hub, VUT alumni’s, current Fine Art students, Photography students, and Fine Aart lecturers, who played an active role in enriching the dialogue and fostering a profound connection between the past and the present.

“Capturing History: Groomed for Labour and Love” was part of a post-support intervention aimed at benefiting participants of SRAC programs, a harmonious collaboration between the City of Ekurhuleni’s Visual Arts and Galleries Section and the Len Khumalo Foundation.

Khumalo and Mzileni, prominent figures of the late ’90s and early 2000s, used their lenses to offer poignant glimpses into South Africa’s rich history and evolving societal fabric. Their works, on display during the exhibition, prompted viewers to reflect on the roles to which women have been traditionally groomed from a tender age.

A powerful statement that reverberated through generations, “O tla nyalwa ke mang o sa tsebe ho pheha?” (“Who will marry you if you cannot cook?”), encapsulated the domestic expectations placed upon young girls—the pressure to conform to the roles of “homemakers,” mothers, and wives.

The exhibition delved deep into the intricate ways in which women are groomed for these domestic roles, often with love serving as both a motivator and a weapon. It also celebrated the women who defied these stereotypes, including iconic figures such as Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Brenda Fassie, alongside countless ordinary yet extraordinary women.

Sisonke Msimang’s words about Mama Winnie resounded within the context of the exhibition: “Women are supposed to be neat and clean, and yet Winnie’s story is messy and not straightforward… We like our heroines to be courageous, but we don’t want them to be messy…, she said. She also emphasized that, “This exhibition served as a poignant reminder that women are complex, multi-dimensional beings, transcending the confines of domestic roles and love alone.”

The exhibition program offered a diverse array of events, including public walkabouts and professional learning opportunities for teachers, youth, students, artists, and photographers, providing unique insights into this remarkable body of work.

One of the highlights was an informal panel discussion, featuring Mrs. Mzileni the wife to Mike Mzileni, Nandi Mzileni the daughter, curator Nthabeleng Masudubele, co-curator Nkululeko Khumalo, Ms Atiyya Khan, and Len Khumalo, with moderation by Tshidiso Makhetha, Director of Arts and Culture in the Ekurhuleni Municipality. The discussion addressed the challenges in photojournalism, the hardships faced by families with members in this field, and the evolving role of women in photojournalism. It also explored innovative methods to make historical archives engaging for the current generation, leveraging technology like artificial intelligence to connect with today’s youth.

The exhibition concluded with a panel discussion, “Groomed for Labour and Love Photographic Exhibition,” expertly facilitated by Nkululeko Khumalo. The discussion offered deeper insights into the exhibition’s themes, featuring contributions from Leonard Khumalo, Nthabeleng Masudubele, Nonhlanhla Kambule Makgathi, Joe Turpin, and moderated by Zinhle Gule.

According to Ms Khumalo, the key takeaways and closing remarks underlined the critical role of these archival photographs in reshaping our understanding of South African history. “Capturing History: Groomed for Labour and Love” represented a groundbreaking opportunity to rewrite our narrative and pave the way for a brighter future for our nation,” she said.

She added that, “the exhibition shed light on the need for dedicated spaces for photography exhibitions and discussions. It emphasized that photography, despite its pivotal role in South Africa’s liberation, is still not afforded the attention it deserves.”

“’Capturing History: Groomed for Labour and Love’ was not just a collection of photographs; it was a profound exploration of history, gender roles, and the transformative power of photography to document and inspire change. It stood as a testament to the strength and resilience of women throughout history and extended an invitation to the younger generation to engage with their heritage through the intersection of technology and art. This exhibition illuminated the path forward while paying homage to the footsteps of those who came before,” concluded Ms Khumalo.