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Botswana metal heads on show

Put together as part of his thesis during his fourth year at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2010, Frank Marshall’s photographs that form part of his Renegades exhibition have since garnered him international attention and elevated him to “one-to-watch” status.

Marshall’s captivating exhibition made its way to the avant-garde Newtown-based Rooke Gallery last July and now the 26-year-old Nelspruit-born young artist is making international headway in the United States. His work is currently showing at the Bekris Gallery in San Francisco until January 27 and is tipped to move onto another space in the country.

Renegades is an exploration of the small yet highly expressive black metal head sub-culture in Botswana.

“I came across this interest group while touring Botswana with a South African band in late 2008. I too am into heavy metal and rock music and had been taking pictures of various bands for a while up until that time.”
Marshall decided to revisit the idea in 2009 and got working on the project in 2010. It took him almost five months to complete the project, where he spent most of his time travelling, road tripping and doing the social scene with his various subjects.

Both men and women are captured in his pictures but men dominate, often clad in black leather pants and biker jackets or waistcoats and mean facial expressions to match. They usually seal the deal with cowboy hats, slogan T-shirts and various accessories, which include knives and bullets strapped across their well-built bodies.

Marshall’s former university and the Rooke Gallery describe his work as exploration of the “notions of performitivity, authenticity and mythology” and “creating an emergent rootedness in a geography where tradition, politics and tribalism create sensitive grounds of expression”.

Marshall perhaps puts it best and simplest when he says: “I just took pictures of the guys because I thought they were interesting and different. Botswana is a great cattle-dependant country with a low-ranging landscape and open fields and I guess that’s where the cowboy and biker influences in their attire come from. This sub-culture is also highly driven by who can customise their threads the best and be the most unique and catchy out of the lot.”

As a freelance photographer for the newly launched South African Rolling Stone magazine, Marshall notes that while music is something that’s very close to his heart he’s also very interested in portraiture and documentary photography. He’s working on other projects saying: “It takes me some time to work on a particular project and that’s something I’m not willing to compromise on.”

While we might not know exactly where his Renegades exhibition is moving to next or what new exciting project he’s currently cooking up at home, one thing is for sure, Marshall is one of the country’s most exciting young photographers to look out for.

Marshall was head-hunted and his work picked by the Brits Gallery whose mission was to expand the audience for African contemporary art. To that end the gallery presented work by emerging, mid-career and internationally acclaimed African artists, both those living in Africa and those who are a part of the vast African diaspora.

Mediums presented by the gallery included paintings, sculpture, works on paper and photography. The gallery’s rigorous exhibition programme presented eight shows a year including individual, two artist and group exhibitions.