In recent years, a new wave of South African skateboarders have shattered barriers across race and gender. Skaters like Wandile Msomi, Nhlanhla Ngubane, Melissa Williams, Thato Moet, and Olympian athlete Boipelo Awuah have been creating an inclusive space for Black men and women in a sport that had long been dominated by cis white males.
South African skateboarder and photographer Karabo Mooki began documenting the Johannesburg skate scene out of his love for the sport. Inspired by the work of Apartheid-era documentary photographer Peter Magubane and Black American sports photographer Atiba Jefferson, Mooki uses his work as a way to foster connections across different communities.
“Through South Africa’s tumultuous history with oppression and segregation rose a triumphant legacy of pride; an inherent pride that is recognised in the collective consciousness that makes up the fabric of South Africa’s youth culture,” Mooki says. “The youth are fearless in their pursuits of claiming space and identity.”
With the new series, Island Gals, Mooki celebrates the young Black women at the forefront of Johannesburg’s skate scene. “Thato Moet is the soul of Island Gals,” he says. “They are pushing for greater representation in the sport and declaring their right to occupy spaces in protest of South Africa’s tumultuous history with gender-based violence.”
Mooki began working on the series at the end of 2021, photographing and interviewing women skaters to elevate their vision and voices in the sport. As a young Black man in a predominantly white sport, Mooki recognised the need for greater representation.
“I was fortunate enough to have some Black role models that I could look up to that made me feel less alone,” he says. “I couldn’t fathom what that experience would be like for Black women who are often boxed in by societies preconceived stereotypes. I wanted to celebrate the beauty of this community and the boundaries that they are pushing.”
Thato Moet provides safe spaces and opportunities for women skaters – something Mooki noticed the first day they met up. “As we cruised around the streets of downtown Johannesburg, I quickly realised how differently a young Black woman on a skateboard has to interact with the city as opposed to myself,” he says.
Moet has spoken about the challenges she and other Black women skateboarders face. “When you get into the sport, you’re made to believe that men are ‘better’ than girls could ever be and if you do progress, you aren’t likely to gain the same access men receive through the sport,” she says.
Despite this, Moet is determined to create a safe space and opportunities for Black women skaters. Among these women is musician and DJ Linda Mbambo. “It feels good to break barriers,” Mbambo told Mooki. “By simply walking through downtown Johannesburg with my board and my buddies, [it] really does feel like I’m changing the world.”
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