Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo: Slaghuis
Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo (b.1993, South Africa) is an emerging photographer based in Johannesburg. In the past two years, he photographically explored his parents’ owned tavern – a place where Hlatshwayo grew up and witnessed accounts of violence, sex and death. Sometimes, he would wake up to a dead body in the yard, which made him desire to immediately disappear. These first-hand experiences had a tremendous impact on him where years filled with shame and guilt turned into an inability to process the events that happened in the past.
With ‘Slaghuis’, Hlatshwayo returns back to the tavern and confronts his trauma. In a conversation with GUP, he discusses the details behind creating his project and in general, the role of photography in retelling traumatic experiences.
Could you please explain to our readers the meaning behind the word ‘Slaghuis’?
‘Slaghuis’, directly translating to a slaughterhouse in Afrikaans, is a vernacular expression for a place of violence, and a tavern can be one of those places of extreme violence. The infamy of my parents’ tavern gave it the name ‘slaghuis’. When Jabulani Dlamini, a mentor and a friend, suggested that I title the project ‘Slaghuis’, I got petrified. And because of that feeling, I knew I had to call it that. I had to confront the word and how it affects me.
Traumatic experiences are difficult to comprehend for oneself but also for others. How did you find your way as a photographer to visualize something so painful like a personal trauma?
The process allowed me to be vulnerable and embody or cloak my turmoil and emotional struggles. It gave me the opportunity to learn about my trauma, and to see the stains inside me created by the tavern. So, my image making became a cleansing as well. A cleansing of my inner space.
It was the exact same back and forth in the confrontation with the revolting parts of the tavern and of my mind. I cannot turn away and give up the cleaning or clean around these revolting parts, in actuality, the revolting parts need the most cleaning. At times the purge of the tavern and of my mind is as violent as the places of my markings.
In terms of aesthetics, your images are burnt and destroyed. Why did you decide to implement such a visual strategy?
It was all about laying myself on the tactile image. Physically recording myself and the space on the image. The tavern is also a place of concentrated emotional exchanges, which is a way the patrons imprint their energies on the space (or leave themselves in the space). This is how they mark the space, and these markings are the aftermaths of some of the emotional tradings that takes place within the space. Now the place takes on a whole new identity from these encounters, which is bound to affect the people who live with/in this space. This is how the space marks me. And getting ‘emotionally physical’ with the image has been quite cathartic but also continues the chain of aftermath.
Consequently, would you say that your project has a therapeutic function?
Indeed, it does. It is in the telling and the retelling of one’s traumatic story to a point that it is almost not theirs anymore. To a point of lightness. I think the process creates one anew, and open for new experiences or stories. It is not a forgetting but an awareness that sets one free every time they recount their trauma to themselves.