Afropunk Fest '19 - #WeSeeYou
We see you. You don’t simply copy the latest fashion trends and call yourself a fashionista. You have a look, a feel. You ooze confidence and understand your own unique style. It is your introduction to the universe. Now check how these individuals make wearing their hearts on their sleeves look great.
Lerato "Ato" Moiloa
Who are you?
I am an African royal, a life-giver, a documenter of presence and the present, a musician, a lover, a fighter. Above all else, I am a human being and a citizen of the world. I am a human right's activist - particularly passionate about the rights of women and members of the LGBTIQ+ community.
Ke nna Ato. It’s Lerato ha le felletse. I am a multimedia practitioner. So that consists of everything from film, photography, art direction, script writing etc. I’m a musician; an urban jazz musician. I’m an activist; a human rights activist that’s particularly passionate about the rights of women and the rights of members of the LGBTI community. I am a lover and I’m fighter, when I need to fight. I'm passionate about stories, storytelling and documenting our history because we are history. I’m particularly passionate about history because of how much of an influence it has on my presence, good and bad, as a motivation and as a reminder of how important it is to work and interact and live with purpose. And to make very deliberate efforts to make contributions that are impactful through what I do and through the platforms that I have, and through everyone that I managed to engage with and reach.
Tell us if there is any difference between you as the person and you as the creative?
It's such a thin line I was literally having this discussion with a friend other day. It gets tricky to separate yourself from what you do when you’re a creative because unlike people who are in retail whose products are tangible or people in the food industry where it's it's consumable that digestible, and all the focus that you are putting into the product to the brand, in that sense, you can keep an arm’s length distance from it and just think how do we make this capital, how do we make this profitable, how do we reach the bottom line. When you're a creative it's completely different, when your product is made of emotions, real stories and experiences because that changes the game altogether. Especially in a situation where you are the brand and you need to deliver the content in this case whatever visual content on creating or whatever music I’m making, it' directly linked to me and it then becomes a very challenging thing to try and keep that arm’s length distance. Sometimes it becomes a very important thing to be able to maintain especially in a situation where there is critique. That’s part of the natural process of any Creative who is putting together something that will ultimately become a big thing, but in between it being an idea and it being that big thing there is a whole lot of breaking down, putting back together, going back to the drawing board, refining, redefining, it's like you're always have to maintain that balance of keeping it close to your heart but being able to keep a good enough distance to be able to be open to improvement.
Describe the moment you knew you were meant to be a creative?
I think I already had an idea of just the general WhatsApp group I would end up in, in my life, from high school when there was all these activities that are sports related, bo Netball, bo volleyball and I was interested in none of them. I just wanted to do drama, I wanted to be part of the debate team, I wanted to do music. I played the Marimba, which is the most un-cool thing to do when I was in high school, I was un-cool. I was un-cool enough to play the Marimba. I always loved reading. I grew up like an only child, I have older siblings but the gap between us is like literally 13 years. So I grew up like an only child and as a result I spent a lot of time with myself. So a lot of my time was spent either reading or writing, so at the point when I was nearing the end of high school trying to decide what I want to do with my life, I already knew that it had to have something to do with the things that I enjoy doing which was writing. That's how I ended up studying Journalism, and it is journalism that then lead me to the visual arts because I was a lot more passionate about the photojournalism aspect. Getting a chance to play with gadgets then it was like: “broadcasting, oh that's cool”, and that's how I knew that this is the space that I'd definitely be playing in for a while.
You mentioned that in high school you may not have necessarily been as cool because of your interests; do you believe that your creativity have made you into what can be defined as cool? Do you believe you have made the shift?
Ironically, yes! *laughs* It’s just the irony of life. You go from being the most un-cool, most geeky and weirdest person in the room, to being somebody that is ‘followed’, for lack of a better word with us being in this digital world we are in. You are now being followed because you are weird or because you are unorthodox in terms of the things that you say the things that you do the things that you wear, when some poin it wasn’t unothordox or abstract, it was just straight up weird. I think it's a blessing that my, what do they call it, my glow-up came later. *laughs* My glow-up came later when I had the chance to understand it and be relevant about it.
Tell us about your Journey of self-discovery? Now self- discovery as an artist and yourself as Ato. Tell us about that journey.
Shoo! Ya my journey has been, eish.. it's been tricky. *laughs* More than anything it's just been tricky because you are the combo of being born and bred in Joburg but raised by parents that are originally from Limpopo, different parts of it; and also with both parents being in my life at different stages of it. Earlier in my life it was myself and both parents and then after they separated then it was just my mom, and then at a later stage in my life around post-varsity then it was mainly me and my dad. So it's like that combo was quite interesting but having had the Joburg experience from the jump has been an advantage and disadvantage. In the sense that, you already have that hustle spirit from the jump and everything that you do you apply that hustle spirit and you got that speed, but it also means you don’t know how to chill. You realise you don’t know to chill when you’re with someone who is from a different province altogether and they're like “yo, you need to relax girl.” *laughs* but the journey of building my character in a way that allows me to be satisfied with my work ethic and also satisfied with my ability to be in the moment and interact and be a human. Funny enough I went from being I would say a loner and just like antihuman as far as squad goals are concerned, to suddenly being somebody who is able to interact with anyone. That is very much part of my personal journey into becoming a person who acknowledges that there is not much you can do on your own. We’re social beings. Especially being young, black and female, I mean it’s even more important with a lot of the struggles you face individually, they are in fact collective struggles, and the only way to deal with collective struggles is to deal with them collectively. So all of that has been part of my personal journey into building my character into such a way that allows me to participate fully in the collective solution whether its through my profession or through my ordinary day-to=day engagements with people, its been quite a challenge to constantly press towards the mark of being accessible enough and also “phaphel-able”.
What is the one flaw that stops you from creating?
Fear! Fear is the one thing that stops anyone from doing anything in their lives, be it creatively or whatever other industry that they’re in. Even on our own personal journeys, the only thing that can ever stop you really, is yourself and your fear of whatever it is you feel you want to so, but maybe don’t have enough resources to do, or not skilled enough, or you’re not cool/ accessible enough, or too misunderstood or abstract, the list goes on and on. There is always that fear, and it’s the only thing that stops anybody from unleashing their full potential. I feel like in the very same way that it’s a human problem and its me being human, that’s the thing that I always have to work through so it doesn’t stop me and doesn’t stop the mission.
From the outside looking in, it may look like you’re fearless. What would you say to someone who sees you and believes you have no fears; and do you use that fear to your advantage?
Eh! Nobody is fearless papa, gwa nyiwa out here, don’t be fooled *laughs* We all have the common denominator of if I cut you and I cut myself we’re both gonna bleed. So in that very same way fear exists in our systems in our blood streams, One would ideally like to say “just hone that fear and just press through” but ga eyo taba eo. Really, you feel fearful to the last minute. The only thing that pushes you and delivers you through that fear is purpose; the reason, the why. Why are you doing what you’re doing? why is it so important that you do it? Usually that ‘why’ is beyond you. I like to think of myself as just a channel, and its important to keep that channel clear, in order for whatever it is that needs to pass through to pass through and to reach where it must reach. Especially for us who work in the digital space, our reach is global; you really don’t know who is going to read your work, whose going to see anything, whose going to listen to your music and whose going to take what from anything you’re producing. So sometimes you find yourself producing it just for yourself in your own corner, yet you don’t understand how much of an impact it will have on somebody on the other side of the globe that you have never met in your life. It’s that purpose that overshadows the fear more than it gets rid of it, because it won’t go anywhere. It’s a matter of just pushing through it, and in the end, that’s the most gratifying thing about having gone through it.
If your younger self could see you now, what do you think she would say?
“High five moghele! He banna! Ke wena motho o? Hamba wena!” Because I don’t think that I could have ever imagined it. Coming from being a person who was always very unnoticeable and quiet, and when I was actually noticed it was because I was so different in the room and so weird, going completely left when everyone was going right. So that always made me feel like I will always be this person who is overlooked and always be this person who doesn’t really have much to contribute. I always imagined that I would remain in that closet. I am very grateful for all the experiences I have had since then. It is all those experiences that lead me to where I am now, and I wouldn’t have imagined that this would be me. When you genuinely don’t see yourself doing accounting, working at the bank, being a lawyer or any of these general, very typical, “very successful” career paths, and worry that are you even going to make anything of your life, and then you do and can even see looking forward that “oh wow, this is going somewhere” it’s just very encouraging and more than anything increases my level of gratitude. So high five from little me to this me.
Tell us more about your art and how it defines you.
It goes back to that thing of it being such a thin line between you and your art because it's almost like I wouldn’t even be able to pinpoint which part of my art define which part of me. Its all an amalgamation of one thing and a lot of the things that I do on a daily are coming from a place of ‘how are we going to do the most impactful thing that we can do today?’ Then it also, “how are you going to survive the day today?” And most of the time that question and answer is very linked because some of the things that I find myself doing, under the impression that I'm doing it for people, I’m in fact doing it for myself. By that I mean I find life in it myself, and that that is often a surprise to me and then it enriches me and builds me as a person. So I think in a very big way my art and my self are very aligned, and the two define each other.
Regarding your identity and your art, what makes either authentically local/ Jozi?
I mean, the stories I tell are from home. The things I wear, local designers. I look at people that are also pushing their merch and pushing their shit and and think “let's see how much we can push your mission or do you need a photo shoot? Maybe the merch in exchange for a.
shoot so you will be able to promote your shit through a catalogue and have nice things to post on Instagram” It's like the link is there automatically because of my environment and because of my context, but I don't believe that everything I produce is just for Jozi or just for South Africa Content is global. Art is global; its universal. In as much as a lot of the things that I do are inspired by where I come from and the people around me, there are so many human experiences that are relatable and that are common, that allow for different it to be a collective identity that we find in different pieces of art that are produced.
Beyond the art, beyond the glow up, in your own understanding of yourself; who are you?
*breaks out in song* “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood” *laughter* Beyond that it’s just me, and that is legit what would be left.
What would you say is the most human thing about you?
I cry, a lot. Not in front of people, but I cry a loooooot. I cry for everything. I cry froma movie, I cry from a touching story, I cry why I’m happy, I cry when I’m sad. I cry over past experiences, I cry for the present, I cry for the future and all the fears, uncertainties and question marks that come with not knowing if everything that you’re sweating towards is actually going to come to fruition. I cry for the haves and the have-nots. The have-nots because in terms of material they don't have anything to get them from point A to point B, and the haves because they have everything that they need to get them from point A to point Z but they are empty on the inside. So it's just like I cry because I'm human amongst humans who are ‘human-ing’ strong. A lot of people will look at me and think I got my shit together, I’m always confusing the enemy. I come here swag on 100, professional, ready to work, ready to serve, ready to slay, but the most human thing about me is that ha ke lle ha ke lle. Ke sellalane sele sa last number
If you had to relate to a fictional character, who would it be and why?
Growing up there was this one show, I don’t remember what It w small boy he's got this clock and Just Like A Moment Like This we doing this interview and everyone was your doing there.
And this clock Hyper enables him to go back and reread. You can go back and place it differently on the table so that are on the edge so it doesn't that kind of situation.
If your life had a top 5 chart, which songs would be on the list and why?
*breaks out again in song* “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good…”
My track called Rise. It’s an anthem for the young women out there trying to do thee most despite of some of the shitty circumstances we find ourselves in, and some of the shitty contexts we find ourselves in as a result of the general context that is so rooted in patriarchal bullshit. So that one definitely is like a sound track to my life.
Not Yet Uhuru – Letta Mbulu. That one is obvious. It’s a political statement that will continue to be a relevant statement until we reach Uhuru.
Monate mpolaye – Cassper Nyovest. That one is for the ratchet self in me. I just want to have a good time, can I not be thinking about the world and its problems. Kopa monate o mpolaye.
The last one is a mystery. It’ll be the bonus track.
As an activist, what pushes you and what impact do you see yourself leaving behind?
What pushes me is circumstance. Reality. Yes, we all have our different definitions of reality because we all experience it differently but there's that common reality of our environment and our context in terms of our history, and how it impacts the way the way our circumstances are today as far as that economic freedom that we all that we all need. That impact that we all desire to make as a result of that lack of economic power and economic freedom as a continent.
I am motivated by what I feel are continental struggles not so much of a South African thing, a Jozi thing, it's a continental problem. Whenever I think about my continent I just feel like we’re so vibrant we’re so gifted and it's always a tragedy when there's such a big gap between one’s gift and one’s potential. My motivation is to try and bridge that gap all the time with everything that I do.As far as my activism goes, it's a human ting, it’s a black thing, it's a woman thing, it's a It's a minority thing. It's a thing that is solely based on having the back of the other, and trying to move that otherness so we can all have access, so we can all be able to be ourselves fully. Whether that's in the careers that we have or choose, or whether it's just to be able to walk down the street and not be harassed.
So it’s literally daily circumstances and daily experiences that drive me every day. My source of inspiration and the fuel to my activism is just the likes of uMam’ Winnie Mandela. She really motivates me daily. Just knowing of her story, having been able to interact with her once or twice in my in my lifetime. Having been able to really engage in the story and draw inspiration from that display of strength and resilience and an outward knowing of self and what you deserve and your worth, and not cowering at any barks. That really draws me out of spaces where I feel like I want to shrink myself, hide and disappear, because as an activist you must know that you are really putting yourself out there as a target. Being the type person who will say what is not said. That obviously makes you a target but whenever I think about that ,I think about how much she has put herself out there as a target. How much of our lives and the lives that we get to live today are owed to that spirit. So it feels like as a result I owe it to her an people like her, because unfortunately not everybody was as documented as Mam’ Winnie and Mam’ Albertina Sisulu. Sometimes I tend to think that it’s as the result of their husbands having been so involved in politics that they automatically got to share the spotlight when they had a spotlight of their own. Unfortunately the spotlight didn’t reach the others who were just as filled with fire as they were. So when I think about that I can keep going. I pick myself up immediately, put my big girl panties on and go.
What do you think people see when they look at you?
Is that true?
What truth about you would you like people to see?
That I am a soldier of love and truth.
Beauty is: felt more than it is seen.
Freedom is: experienced by some and sought after by many.
Blackness is: ROYALTY!
Afropunk is: a therapeutic gathering of global love-soldiers & active-participants of humanity.