Lebogang Mokgoko

Text JF. Pierets     Photos Keletso Nkabiti & Lunga Ntila


You are both a photographer and a designer. Do you need to mix things up in order to be creative?
I think I represent a new wave of creators. We’ve been exposed to the internet, grew up listening to Kanye West, so obviously we’re going to adapt that whole theory of multidiscipline as opposed to doing only one thing. On paper I studied design and photography but I both feel like and would like to be considered as an artist in his purest form. If I’m inspired I want to share it, no matter in which form it comes.

Does the place where you live influence your work? 
Very much. I live in Pretoria, a city in Gauteng which is in the province of Johannesburg, South Africa. For me it’s home and I believe that you are where you are from. That’s your reference. The way you greet someone, the way you interact with people, that’s what you know, where you grew up. So it does influence me in a huge way. I like traveling and meeting new people but for me it’s very important to return to a familiar setting. Where I come from there’s a sense of humility, nobody’s really trying to fit in. I understand that I am the way I am because I’ve never felt that particular need to fit in. I come from a place where no matter what you are doing, people are very accepting. I don’t want to say that the place where you are from determines everything, but it’s definitely important in the way I perceive certain things.

Your first fashion collection is a success. How does that make you feel? 
The Blossom collection was more an idea than anything else and now I’m having a Skype chat with someone from Spain, how weird is that? Two or three months ago I probably wouldn’t have had the answers I’m giving you now. Since Blossom I can see how it’s possible that something you might think of as being very small can be very big to the next person. Now I understand how important it is to do what you want to do, to make ideas come to life. In school I felt like I wasn’t expressing enough of what I had – it’s still school so you have to adapt to certain aesthetics – but Blossom was a cry-out to what I really had in me.

How about becoming an established fashion designer?
It’s definitely in the planning, but right now it’s more important for me to connect with people on a street level rather than create for something like Fashion Week. I have my whole life to do things like that. For now I have too much energy and I want to try things out without being limited. I’m only slowly starting to create my own world and the more I learn and do, the more my perspective changes on how I see things and experience people.

Does your work need an explanation?
What’s important for me is for people to have their own interpretations before I tell them what it is. We rely too much on getting answers instead of searching for them. Whatever I do, I really find it important for someone to find meaning in it. So even if you don’t like it, at least express why you don’t. My approach towards everything in general is that I don’t like – for lack of a better word – boxing things in. Great art shouldn’t be restricted, it’s not a practical way of thinking.

‘Where I come from there’s a sense of humility, nobody’s really trying to fit in. I understand that I am the way I am because I’ve never felt that particular need to fit in. I come from a place where no matter what you are doing, people are very accepting.’

Art creates dialogue, in one form or another. What kind of dialogue would you like to start?
In terms of the art-world I’m still a baby, yet I think I’ll get better as I grow in my craft.I like to work on people’s senses, giving them the complete experience. I don’t necessarily have to talk to you, but as you consume what it is that I’ve made, I want you to have that dialogue with yourself through all your different senses and channels. You need to look at something and see what it means, need to hear something to understand the vibe, the tone or the feeling. Maybe it makes you remember something as you touch it. So before having a dialogue with a person about whatever it is that you want to talk about, it’s very important to first have that dialogue with yourself. To understand what it means to you.

Are you influenced by certain trends?
I think it’s important to look at trends in order to understand what’s happening now, so your work can be relevant and relatable to that specific time. That said, I don’t let trends dictate to me since a lot of what I do is mostly based on feeling. I like my work to be timeless so that it can have a long lifespan as opposed to a short shelf life.

Earlier you were talking about a new African ‘wave’. Can you elaborate?
At the risk of sounding cheesy; what’s currently happening in Africa is very, very beautiful. The topics amongst the creators is not us referring to what we are seeing in Europe or the United States anymore. We are really trying to tell our own story and we’re trying to show people that you do not necessarily have to have an African print or an African design in order to create African art. This ‘wave’ – for lack of a better word – is also very proud being African. Before we were just looking at what other people were doing, trying to act and sound like them. Yet now we are really owning our own culture, our own heritage and we are bringing this into a new perspective. Design-wise we are now more or less doing what people in the first world countries are doing, but at the same time it has an African aesthetic without needing the African imagery. And I love that. This new wave is coming into that transitional period of acceptance and I think it will probably get to a point where it can only get bigger and better.

Do you have a spiritual practice?
I meditate. For me it’s very important to be spiritual. It’s not about a higher being, but about being in touch with yourself. Understanding who you are as a person and what it is that you want and need. When I meditate I reflect and I become thankful for who I am and the chances that are being given to me. I don’t take that for granted.

Who are you inspired by?
That’s a tricky question because even when I was young and we had to choose a role model, I could never pinpoint someone. A lot of people have certain qualities which I would like to apply to myself, so if I really have to answer your question, I’d have to say that I get more inspired by ideas than by people. What is truly inspiring, is being an African right now. That’s what drives and fuels me. Being from a country stained by apartheid, where my parents never had the opportunities that I have now, makes me feel like I have to prove something. The fact that I’m not only able to do what I do, but also get the chances to do it, inspires me more than anything. I can’t express it enough. What gets me out of bed in the morning is being young, being African and the feeling that I have something to say.



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