Losing my father at the age of three years old, I was raised by mother, my aunt, and grandmother. Being constantly surrounded by powerful women, shaped my ideas around masculinity and femininity, it was hardly separate but more fluid. Once, I started attending middle school and high school, I had to wear a strict uniform of grey pleated pants, a white shirt, and tie, along with a short “schoolboy” haircut, I realized that I may be a bit different to the conventional boys at my school.
PHOTOGRAPGER: HANEEM CHRISTIAN
ART DIRECTION: SHUAIB VAN DER SCHYFF
STYLIST: SHUAIB VAN DER SCHYFF
WORDS: SHUAIB VAN DER SCHYFF
ASSISTED BY: THANIWE GULA- NDEBELE / IMRAAN CHRISTIAN / WASEEM NOORDIEN
My mother, who is an eclectic fabric painter understood the importance of art and self-expression. Attending visual art school from the age of 7 years old, and throughout my school career, genuinely became my safe haven. My uniform became non-existent and my obsession with artists like Grace Jones, Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and Salvador Dali was the only thing that mattered. The juxtaposition between completely being able to fully express myself, versus simply blending in at school and left me quite confused.
I became conscious that my unique upbringing, being surrounded by women, greatly crafted my personhood and how I viewed the world. But I was just scratching the surface. I mean, who I had their identity figured out in their teenage years?
As a Muslim, Queer, Male identifying person of color growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, I often felt like I never got a seat at the table. Every facet of my identity seemed to conspire against me. I had to learn the hard way that it was me conforming to what the world wants me to be, what it wants me to think and do. That my existence is valid and valued and I have the right to create my own narrative.
We all conform to the world in some way, be it through capitalism, patriarchy, or hypermasculinity. The idea of uniformity versus individuality is the basis of the composition of my photoshoot. Physically portraying a uniform and the means in which I allow my individuality to peak through is a mould of my everyday life. I believe that it is powerful to love parts of ourselves that the world may resent or devalue. To me, this is the embodiment of being a ‘baddie’.
Fashion has always been like armour to me, a defence mechanism. I was aware that I was more flamboyant and artistic than the rest of the kids in my class. Although it made me extremely self-conscious, it was a gift, a superpower. My colouring books and drawings were hardly ever inside the lines, they were upside down, inside-out, and side-ways, anything but conventional. I used visual art as a medium to create my own reality that existed outside the norms and rules that I experienced at school, in the streets, and at home. Attending university right after high school was, and is, one of the most transformative life experiences. I learned about gender being more than just one’s biology but being a social construct. I improved at navigating through these constructs that society pressurized me to be and allowed myself to fully exist. My queerness is only an atom of my existence, and I get to decide who I am.
Rihanna’s speech at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards, talks about coming from a small island and not having a lot of access to fashion. This I found relatable and one of her quotes that continues to resonate with me is “she could beat me, but she cannot beat my outfit”. And so, I was inspired to listen to my intuition and dress how the hell I wanted. My garments and style stretch beyond materialism but is a mindset.
The harassment that I experience daily, through gender constructs, patriarchy, and masculinity, I used as inspiration for the looks that I styled myself, and art directed along with Haneem Christian and Thandiwe Gula Ndebele. I find Beauty in Disrupting Uniformity and that was the vibe for the photo shoot, playing with masculine and feminine silhouettes along with subtle hints of queerness. These photographs and poses depict the best version of myself today, in terms of style, fashion, and most importantly, vulnerability. In this way, I reclaim parts of myself that are devalued in my everyday life.
Something I find important is that it is okay for boys to be feminine (or anybody for that matter), it should not have to be attached to gender or sexuality, but just because you feel like wearing or presenting yourself in what feels natural and comfortable to you.
To me, that makes a Baddie.
PHOTOGRAPGER: HANEEM CHRISTIAN: @haneemchristian
ART DIRECTION: SHUAIB VAN DER SCHYFF: @Shabbyshook
STYLIST: SHUAIB VAN DER SCHYFF: @Shabbyshook
WORDS: SHUAIB VAN DER SCHYFF: @Shabbyshook
ASSISTED BY: THANIWE GULA- NDEBELE: @thandi_gula / IMRAAN CHRISTIAN: @imraanchristian / WASEEM NOORDIEN