Documentary, Projects

Photographing Xhosa Shaman women in South Africa

All images © Tomasso Fiscaletti, courtesy of the artist

The Xhosa people are the second largest cultural group in South Africa, and Sangomas women play a crucial social role in their society. South African photographer Tommaso Fiscaletti revealed the lives of such women in a remarkable debut photography series.

Shaman-like healers who practice traditional medicine and worship the ancestors are influential figures in the community – but what fascinated Italian photographer Tommaso Fiscaletti wasn’t their power, but the contrast between that and their everyday lives.

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Fiscaletti has been based in Cape Town for the past two and a half years, and first set foot in the small township of Dunoon, in the west of the city, when he was introduced to the urban weavers who live there.

The women invited him to come to learn about their designs, but Fiscaletti was struck by the duality of the spiritual and the domestic that shape their lives.

installationfist019He had soon embarked upon a six-month project photographing them, taking shots he’s titled Between Home and Wisdom.

“On the one hand, they are leading figures for the community and the family and on the other, they’re devoted to the cult of the ancestors and spend a lot of time alone,” Fiscaletti says.

“What attracted me the most was the energy of these women in everyday life, in the context of the township where nature seems to have changed its shape, and life and death seem to have a different feeling to normal reality.”

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Through a combination of staged, cinematic portraits where dramatic lighting illuminates the women in their dark surroundings, and photographs taken against neutral backgrounds, Fiscaletti frames the strong characters of his subjects, focusing on them rather than their social conditions.

“My vision, and my approach to the image, has been conditioned by the love for the cinema,” he says.

See more of Tomasso’s work here.