Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Thandiwe discovered photography at 14, experimenting with an old Nikon D80 from her father. Self-taught, she immersed herself in books and video tutorials, learning from every resource she could find, as Kenya did not have any formal photography schools. By 17, she was working professionally, and by 23 had shot her first solo advertising campaign. The first commercially successful female photographer in Kenya by 2019, she was then photographing campaigns for some of the largest companies in East Africa.
As the sole woman operating in the male-dominated commercial photography industry in Kenya, Thandiwe repeatedly confronted questions around the role of women in society, the place of tradition, and her own self-perception. These experiences inspired her Camo series, a personal project that brought those questions into sharp focus. Camo was the catalyst for her to push new boundaries in her photography, into a deeply personal artistic journey.
Drawing inspiration from the everyday lives of Kenyans and crowning her subjects with popular African hairstyles, Thandiwe explores the individual’s quest for identity and cultural roots, and in so doing explores her very own identity, first as an Artist and secondly as a Black Woman. The Camo series represents theAfrican woman’s tumultuous voyage to reclaim her self-love, a fight against the often-exclusionary beauty standards of her own community.
In a vibrant realization of the African proverb, "However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source," Thandiwe consistently reimagines objects associated with the daily lives of Kenyans into bold accessories donned by her subjects. These objects range from toilet paper rolls, to hair pins, to the mosquito repellent coils the artist grew up using. In Kenya an object can have multiple uses beyond its original purpose. This creative recycling is commonplace for a population often lacking in means. As the artist explains: "When you have little, you transform and reuse it."
The textiles incorporated are as dynamic as the people who wove them, and now serve as a canvas for Thandiwe to reflect on the question of identity and its evolution over time. “A tree cannot stand without roots,” says the proverb, and the rich history of these fabrics, ranging from traditional printing methods to modern patterns, reflect that growth. The depth of tradition grounds Thandiwe’s images, as she explores what that culture and history mean today.
Thandiwe takes you on a colorful, reflective journey through her world as a woman living in modern Kenya, as she reinterprets contemporary African portraiture, and presents a bold new vision of a woman and her beauty.