When journalism meets art: Qiniso Mbili’s ‘Wena WeZulu’
As a young boy growing up in a poor rural area, Qiniso Mbili witnessed the effects of inequality, unemployment and poverty on society and this led to him wanting to make some kind of change.
Now, at 26, Mbili uses photography to highlight socioeconomic issues that are prevalent in African communities. His latest body of work, titled Wena WeZulu (a Zulu expression that is used to acknowledge royalty) presents a selection of black and white images that are observations of society linked by his interest in exploring social ills, “I feel like colours are a distraction, therefore I eliminated them so that we can get to focus on the actual issues that the pictures represent,” explains Mbili.
He was born in Durban in 1992 and grew up in a poor rural area of uMdlazi near Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast. He is the eldest of three and has two younger sisters. Mbili was raised by his grandparents, “My mother was working and my father was also working in the city.”
When the family moved to uMgababa, south of Durban in 2008, the young Qiniso realised that although his family’s living situation had improved, the area they moved to was also riddled with the same inequality, poverty and unemployment that defined uMdlazi and this realisation is what made the young boy want to try and make a difference.
In 2013, he enrolled to study journalism at the Durban University of Technology and it was during this time that he discovered photography and fell in love with the camera. He graduated with a Bachelor of Technology in Journalism in 2016.
Mbili also works as a video editor, video director, and content producer and runs TOPTD, a social project that aims to develop rural communities through the challenging game of chess, “We started TOPTD with a high school friend of mine – its mission is to develop rural communities, especially home. We use Chess because we believe that it has the power to expand your mind,” TOPTD was established in 2011 and he says it has been growing steadily.
Some of his work has received negative criticism in the past, something he says won’t deter him. “There was a guy who said he would never pay that much money (R8000) for my photograph. You know what I thought? ‘wrong target market’”.
Instead he says chooses to focus on what inspires him, although it can sometimes be difficult to. “I do have moments where I really wish I didn’t see something but then there’s a bigger reason why I should see those things. I have a role to play and that role is to document, and hope that it will better people lives”.
“I want to be able to influence people on a wider scale. Take the message to more people, this is how people get awakened and they are able to think for themselves.”
“I am inspired by ‘abantu abashizilayo’ (People who hustle), I took these pictures with a R2000 camera, a tiny camera but I shot this whole thing and look at where my work is now. When I tell people the story of the camera I used to take these photographs, I think that inspires them.”
Ultimately, Mbili wants to use his art to ‘influence people to do better’.
Qiniso Mbili’s exhibition ‘Wena WeZulu’ is at The BAT Centre until September 20