About a year ago, I came across a photograph by Saddi Khali on a friend’s Facebook page called blue moon rising in his album Pieces of Peace. It was love at first sight, I swear! I spent the next few weeks telling everyone who was willing to listen about his photos and sent a loud wish out into the Universe: one day, some day (before I die), I will be photographed by Saddi Khali. I imagined how amazing it must feel to have someone see me like that, turn my stretch marks into golden stripes of art, show me BEAUTIFUL. But he was in the USA and I am in Pretoria. So I wrote him a Facebook message to let him know how much his work had touched me then went about my business of living (occasionally stalking his photo albums of course).
Cut to January 2012… I see an ad on a friend’s page saying that Saddi Khali will be in Johannesburg and Cape Town from the 15th of March until early April. My heart be still! I knew from that moment, that come hell or high waters, I would get my shoot! Turns out that when we speak from a place of truth, the Universe listens. Thanks to the lovely Keitu Gwangwa (who I have since recognised as a kindred spirit); I had the opportunity to interview Saddi for a promo for Consciousness (www.consciousness.co.za) and for an in-depth article on Times Live. But as rewarding as chatting to him was, it wasn’t for Vangile. It was work. I wanted to experience the artist. I wanted him to see me like those many beautiful women in his photographs and I wanted to know for myself, what it must be like to be that beautiful… immortalised in stills. On the 1st of April, I got my shoot! And it was beautiful and more than I could have imagined it would be.
So I decided I would blog about it. I wanted to write about how wonderful my journey (through nudity) was and what a selfless soul Saddi is for giving so much of himself so that women like me can find home in their own skin. I wanted to share how I believe that if he were Xhosa or Tswana I’m certain he would be a traditional healer, but how I have no vocabulary to understand (or articulate) what the African American version of that is. I even wanted to share anecdotes about breasts and piercing eyes and Cee Lo Green and smiling from the inside, so that everyone who has had a shoot with Saddi would reminisce and everyone who hadn’t would want in on the private joke. But that’s not what I walked away with. I mean, don’t get me wrong, all those things were great and I truly believe EVERY woman owes it to herself to see herself that beautiful, but I got so much more than that. Saddi gave me something far greater than memory and beauty; he opened my proverbial curtains and showed me sunlight.
As an artist, I know about purpose and having to listen so as to speak truth. I know that I am a vessel through which the Universe speaks and that these messages are not always easy to receive, interpret and share. I also know that, to me, the Universe often speaks in pain. So I have always been able to write about pain. In fact, I think I write least when I’m happy and that makes me restless so I end up (subconsciously) seeking pain just so I can write.
As I lay, naked, on his bed with a lens pointed at my breasts, Saddi looked at me and asked me what I would lose if I were to choose to speak of love. The night before, he had seen me perform at Spoken Mind’s Saddi Khali: Mind Travel, where I had performed a number of my signature sad, angry and hurt poems. One of them was I Expect More from You. Immediately after I finished it, I walked off the stage and headed for refuge at the back because I needed a moment alone to get out of the poem. Everyone who has ever watched me perform it knows how much it takes from me so I am always spent after it. But that’s how truth is supposed to be right? It’s supposed to be draining and incredibly emotional. How else will I know that it’s true? Apparently not so. For the first time in my life, I realised I am a “misery loves company” artist. Pain is a common human thread and I speak it fluently, allowing me access to people from different backgrounds. And because I speak it from a place of truth, my pain is healing to others. Like the farmers who burn the grass towards the end of winter so it can be fresh and vibrant in spring. But Saddi made me realise that I would also like to speak words that that make people smile without tinges of sadness. Like his pictures and how they make you look at your body in beauty.
I would also like to be able speak words that describe folds and curves as reasons why men would want to come home from work early and be there for their families. Why sincere eyes and hearty smiles can inspire politicians’ to joyfully fulfil their duty to serve. I want to encourage little girls to laugh with their heads thrown back and not feel like little Jezebels because I have no control over all the evils of the world. And they are too many for me to speak of. But if lions are to have their own historians, they should celebrate the magnificence of their miens and roars and kings. These historians should praise the lioness for her hunt and how she cares for her cubs. Much in the same way as how the hunter celebrates his hunt and mocks this supposed king of the jungle.
It was no coincidence that of all the countries in the world, Saddi chose to come to mine. That he was approachable and that Keitu is the blessing she is. No matter how persistent I could have been, I can’t take credit for getting the interviews or sharing a stage with him. Saddi was meant to enter my life, as the spirit his is. He was meant to see me beyond woman… as artist. And he was meant to spark inspiration in me. I just pray that I may allow myself to always remember what it feels like to bask in the sunshine and to write words that celebrate the green spring grass. But in case I forget, I will always have my beautiful photos.