Since creating this body of work, Thandiwe has presented it at conferences around the world, and, like the chorus of #metoo across the internet, the response has been an unravelling of more women’s stories of violation. When Thandiwe presented her work in Eindhoven last year, women came up to her afterwards to share their own stories, sometimes revealing things that they’d never told anyone. Thandiwe says, “I guess by creating images that I feel heal me, I’m healing someone else.” Men, though, tend to keep their distance: “Every time I present this work, men walk far away from me, they get so uncomfortable, they’re like ‘I’m not engaging with you right now!’” Initially this got her thinking about how to create work that allows men to be part of these discussions too, but she has come to the conclusion that their walking away is their chosen participation in the conversation.
Although her work is being made at a time when more and more women are speaking up about their experiences of assault – since the beginning of Awundiboni, the hashtag #menaretrash has sparked major conversation and controversy in South Africa – Thandiwe is wary about making work with the sole purpose of being relevant. For example, she says, “Making work about being a strong black woman is trending, everyone wants black girl magic, but there are people who have been doing this because it’s just their truth. And that comes through in the work.” Her art comes from the heart and when dealing with such raw subject matter, it’s been difficult to separate herself from her work: “When I started creating the project I became very sensitive to everything, I became sensitive to friends who I found were problematic, so I cut them out. I got so invested that I couldn’t even look at posts [on social media] that had anything to do with sexual harassment.”