Educated & Uncivilized: The Uncultured Club
THE ARTISTIC TRIO TAKING SOUTH AFRICAN STORIES WORLDWIDE.
"Lacking in education, taste, or refinement." That’s how the dictionary defines "uncultured." To be called that would ignite revolt and outrage in most artists but not The Uncultured Club. The group wears the adjective with pride.
Since 2015, the three lifelong friends, who met growing up as black and colored in Johannesburg’s townships, have been combining their diverse talents into one powerhouse of guerilla art prowess.
Nicholas Rawhani is a photographer and videographer, Chisanga Mubanga a creative strategist, and Anthony Bila a multidisciplinary artist. The triumvirate draws on each other’s mediums to create for gallery exhibitions and clients, including independent South African fashion brands such as DEAD, and global heavyweights such as Adidas and Vans.
"It's more about finding the exact medium that's perfect for that form of expression," says Rawhani, who initially studied to be an electrical engineer. “We really believe creativity should be unchained and unfitted. When that happens, there is a sense that all people can connect to it."
Their work features intimate portraits of South African youth, telling their stories through style and the urban environments in which they grow up – predominantly in townships. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in the townships surrounding Johannesburg, many of whom live in makeshift shacks and fight to overcome poverty.
Those stories are sometimes glossed over with modern perceptions of South Africa as a "Rainbow Nation" of cosmopolitanism and social harmony. It's a veneer The Uncultured Club seeks to shatter by "giving a voice to the voiceless," says Bila. Despite all three members being university educated, they say the struggle of rising socioeconomic rank is real when all you know is township life.
"It's literally just getting the people from the areas to tell their own stories," explains Bila. "All I do is document the narrative and put it together, rather than being a mouthpiece or spokesperson for people who should be speaking for themselves … There are a lot of untold South African stories, especially from where I grew up in the townships in east Johannesburg."
“There are few things more empowering than seeing someone who is like you telling your story in a high-quality way that you’ve only seen other people’s stories being told, like in Hollywood or Europe,” adds Rawhani.
Over the last year, each member of the Uncultured Club has taken time off to criss-cross the world working on solo projects. The crew aims to come back together after having “honed our skills to properly leverage them, so that the work can start larger conversations,” says Rawhani from London, where he’s on a three-month stint bringing together his experience as an artist and an electrical engineer in the sustainable energy field.
Bila has recently completed photography exhibitions in Japan and New York, while Mubanga heads up his own communications company in Johannesburg.
The guys regularly talk on WhatsApp and get together whenever they’re at home in South Africa.
“(The Uncultured Club) is a process of metamorphosis – even though right now it’s a bit nebulous, like breathing,” says Rawhani. “But the way we think about Uncultured Club is it can never end as long as the three of us are alive, we’re on it. We’re like one person — in the world of the spirit, we’re together.”