Words by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

Mandisa Buthelezi is part of the zeitgeist of South African photo makers re-imagining contemporary photography. Her images are informed by her culture and lived experiences of heritage and spirituality, all the while revisiting historical  narratives. Her perspective on cultural history is a form of decolonisation of the photographic medium through reclaiming stories and elevating historical events with an African feminist lens. 

In her series, UBhuku LukaMenzi, Buthelezi’s work establishes new narratives about the KwaZulu-Natal landscape, and shapes contemporary visual archives.

UBhuku LukaMenzi, revisits the story of Princess Mkabayi KaJama: King Shaka’s aunt, who was dismissed for presenting herself as a strong woman.

“I was really taken by the fact that she had so much power as a royal woman of the Zulu monarchy,” explains Buthelezi.

 “She was in the centre of politics to such an extent that she appointed herself as regent of the throne because her brother, King Senzangakhona (King Shaka Zulu’s father) was too young to take over.”

The photos in UBhuku LukaMenzi are not reenactments, but new ways of approaching documentary photos, by introducing a narrative from another time. The photographs are black and white and graded with a granular texture. As a collection, the series translates as a visual story, with bits and pieces of the Princess Mkabayi legend. For instance: in one image there is a calm setting, with women doing each other’s hair. Juxtaposed to this is a frenetic frame with rising dust and dancing feet. If we are to connect the images directly to the story of the Princess, they can be read as moments of community followed by uprising in Mkabayi’s life.

This article has been revised to suit the Contemporary Archive Project, and was first published in the Mail & Guardian, titled Talking Bodies: Photographers use self-portraits to tell stories, 17 Oct 2020.

Hi There, my name is Mandisa

Mandisa Buthelezi is a photographer and film director/producer who was raised in Durban and is currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. With a vast portfolio that communicates the rural voice, and an appreciation and respect for the culture that has informed her perspective, she is keen on providing photographic and film content that is culturally centered and explores notions of identity and spirituality.

Cataloguing and documenting African culture through visual art has become an important component of her work through assignments.

Hi There, my name is Lindo


Growing up in the township of KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal and attending primary school in the same town is one of the strongest memories I have about my neighbourhood. The times I spent with my late grandmother Miss Dombi Chiliza and the people I shared my life with at that moment in time in my early childhood, influence the work I create. “I can’t imagine a world without photography – capturing a unique moment in time that will never be repeated” (Gigi Williams).

Hi There, my name is Niamh

Co-Founder & Programme Director

Niamh Walsh-Vorster is a Durban-based writer, independent photographer, and creative producer. She graduated in 2014 with a BJourn from Rhodes University in Makhanda, South Africa.
Niamh is co-founder and editor of the award-winning e-zine, Ja. Magazine. She has exhibited photographic work in group shows at galleries, and independently in various public spaces. In 2016, Niamh was the recipient of a BASA Arts Journalism Award for her review in Ja. Magazine. She has worked with the Durban Center for Photography under the leadership of legendary AfraPix photographer, Peter McKenzie. She was part of the third Incubator Programme at The Market Photo Workshop, 2017 – 2018 in Johannesburg, mentored by Angela Buckland. More recently, Niamh was project manager of the ARTLAB Mentorship programme, which worked with 30 KZN-based creatives in photography, design, and fashion. She was mentor to 10 emerging photographers.