In this Assign-ment, Let Us Build Youth in collaboration with My Friend Ned and The Family Life Centre (FAMSA JHB) choose to recognise and embrace Mental Health Awareness, not only as a human right but also as a fundamental need for any human being to function positively.
In a world where internal (e.g genetics) and external factors (e.g abuse, trauma, neglect, discrimination) already deeply affect the mental wellness of many of us, it is of utmost importance that we acknowledge the exacerbation of our wounds since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic breaching what strength we have left. This Assign-ment is intended to be a mirror through which your own aches and struggles may be seen and given voice to, that you may feel understood, empowered and inspired by. We hope for you to join us in co-creating a culture that is more forgiving and informed when it comes to mental health matters.
In-house photographer Nandi Khemese and models Florence Magampa, Samihah Pargas, Kevin Narain, Khaya Ngubane, Sarah Oats, Kamohelo Pule and Chanzel Oosthuizen, all represented by My Friend Ned which is renowned for its inclusivity, got together with The Family Life Centre and Let Us Build Youth to document various states of being associated with mental health issues. This was Nandi’s first time working in monochrome.
The Family Life Centre (FAMSA JHB) provided a counsellor, Ms Patricia Adonisi (a qualified social worker and counsellor) whowas present on site to educate the crew about mental health as well as to provide support when necessary during the shoot. Please bear in mind that the following can be triggering as we delve into various sensitive mental health topics.
And being seen is a challenge of its own. Often it can sound like “I might get rejected” instead. In order to receive the professional help, emotional validation or support we need, we find that opening ourselves up to be known becomes necessary. This is not always easyAnxiety is a frightening gaze on your back, it’s a question mark at the end of other people’s statements, it’s a past experience poking fun at you in the present. It’s the voice that says you are invisible or small in a big bad world. It’s the voice that says be other than yourself, be perfect, everyone is watching– what will they think if you aren’t?
Model: Khaya Mordecai Ngubane (@_Mordekhai)
Feeling trapped might not exactly feel like a nylon hug, but certainly along the lines of being wrapped up in something. It can be a gradual or instantaneous sense of being overwhelmed by factors around or within us. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell between the two- if it were easy to feel clarity at the time, we wouldn’t call it “feeling trapped”. It can have us feeling utterly powerless. Sometimes the only thing we can control is what our next step forward will be. This is not always the first thing anyone in the situation wants to hear. If someone around you is feeling trapped, maybe don’t start your response off with that? Maybe offer them a shoulder or your listening skills, wise guy.
Model: Chanzel Oosthuizen (@Chanzel.Oosthuizen)
Contrary to feeling trapped there is Freedom; what does this word mean to you? Sheer joy, self-confidence, allowing rest, respecting your boundaries, the right to live dignified as you are, are but a few possible ideas for a word that spans the length of the world in its various forms. Many of us have grown up learning it as “conditional” through being shamed about something that gave us joy and made us feel free, such as being bullied for the clothes you wear, not being supported for the dreams or beliefs you have, or being made to feel unequal over a thing you have little to no control over such as your skin, health or financial situation. Having societal systems or individuals place conditions on whether or not we may feel joyous, whole, safe or loved is sometimes the first way we learn about freedom or lack thereof. The message was stay in line, or lose. It’s not completely hopeless. As we (re)learn more about what freedom looks like for us, we’re able to take steps towards nurturing it and fostering a community that protects it… even if only in small ways.
Model: Kevin Narain (@kev.rain)
Expression as an emotional need. As liberation in many parts of the world, and in many parts of our selves as well. Sometimes it is a profound gesture of vulnerability, which isn’t something we may always have the heart for. This is okay. The world as we know it capitalizes on lack of expression, which has not made it any easier for us as living, breathing things. Although we relate expression to the idea of being heard and seen by others, it can also (often) serve the purpose of being witnessed by our selves. Standing by yourself this way can feel like the ultimate freedom. In our emotional bodies, expression (or the absence of it) tends to feel most frightening and painful when we are unable to honestly acknowledge our own thoughts and feelings. This is also called holding a space for ourselves, to be.
I denounce the world that tells me I am not good enough for it. Shoves this thought down my throat before I even learn my own name. I am a thing of intricate design. Contrastive and complex. I am made of love and flesh and careful thought. It took too many coincidences the size of God to get me here. I don’t need your permission to be. I just am as I am.
Model: Kamohelo Pule (@kamo_ww)
Depression baffles and hurts me. Sometimes it is numbing enough to trick me into wondering if I’m raising hell against nothing at all. I have come to raise my hands in surrender instead, and give more of myself to it. It knows to exhaust me. It may very well be me— it is so familiar with the outline of me. All the outlets I use to soothe it feel like a single breath of air I can take before the atmosphere falls again. It is cleverer and faster than I am. I could be outrunning myself alone while my heart dangles from its own strings. I am a contained explosion, my body, a warzone. The carnage is all internal. This is the little confession that has taken me so long to write. I do not know where to go from here. I am hoping that honesty counts as a step, towards anything. Anything.
Model: Florence Magampa (@thee_flomat)
Let Us Build Youth in association with The Family Life centre
My Friend Ned
Photographed & Directed
King Nandi Khemese
Written and Narrated
Keke Nthibane of Karabo Studios