I feel like I have the responsibility to tell honest stories. I won’t let my truth be distorted


Cole Ndelu has her lens fixed on black bodies and culture. Through photography and design, she is working to improve the representation of people who are often fetishised, stereotyped, or completely ignored. And the world has taken notice. While studying, Ndelu shot an image of a young black woman with arms folded in defiance and eyes that appear to meet the camera – although that is unclear. The image has been digitally distorted and fractured by Ndelu. Pride of the Panther was shortlisted for the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards and exhibited in London after being chosen from over 200 000 entries across the globe. Since then, she has sought to connect people through photography while celebrating their similarities and differences.

The Durban-born photographer initially struggled without proper camera equipment, while working two jobs to finance her studies at the Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography. Ndelu’s frustrations coincided with the #FeesMustFall movement and the growing anger of black students. Pride of the Panther was a memento of the fight for education and equality, serving to commemorate the students for whom there would be no statues and monuments. “I feel like I have the responsibility to tell these stories,” she says. Ndelu deliberately distorted her image using digital glitches to reference online culture and social media – a space for political deliberation during the protests which carried the risk of miscommunication and distortion of the truth.

The Visual Communications graduate has recently been announced as part of Design Indaba’s Emerging Creatives Class of 2018. Ndelu’s work will be on display at LISOF during the Design Indaba Johannesburg simulcast, joining a host of other young creatives drawing inspiration from South Africa and its people. “I love the energy that my generation has,” she says. “The desire that people have to make change, to create, to collaborate – it’s very exciting for me right now in terms of creating.” After experiencing the most significant student protests since 1976, Ndelu has high hopes for where our country’s youth are going. “I’m really enthusiastic about the future of the young, black creative artist in South Africa,” Ndelu says. And should we ever come close to forgetting the struggles faced along the way, Ndelu’s work will serve as an impactful reminder.