Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts

From the emergence of classic rock in 1970’s Botswana, metal music has since become a prolific feature in Botswana’s music scene. Irreverent and dissenting from all orthodox prescriptions of what it means to be black and African, evolved a subculture of black metal heads known as the Marok. The Marok, which has since 2011 enjoyed a global audience, presents a stark contrast to the typical desolate image portrayed of Africa. However, as is expected, there is a glaring over representation of the masculine narrative at the expense of it's female counterpart. It is this forgotten narrative of the eccentric black woman in rock, which South African-born photographer, Paul Shiakallis sought to unearth in his work, Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts.

Adorned in tassels and leather, polished spikes and ornament belt buckles pinned to silver heads with gaping eyes at their waists, invite their sensuality in feminine leather tights and pieces of bare skin. They have cemented their place in the movement. These women are an enigma and are far removed from the docile inanimate global representation of black women.

Set among ordinary and familiar surroundings, extended farm lands, endless skies, white domestic walls, worn sofas and tired kitchen cupboards; these women, some mothers and others wives, are a blunt rebellion amidst the ordinary of their lives. Dressed as though prepared for battle, head regalia fit for queens and capes of black magic, they invite the imagination to wonder about their place in the world.

For over eight months Shiakallis has immersed himself in the chasms of their alter egos, fascinated by the way in which these women escape the four walls and wired fences of social conditioning and enter into the infinite possibilities that the darkness holds. What is it about the night that flirts with freedom, what is it about metal music that seduces individuality?

His photography is a conversation between the fluidity of identity and its many faces, how it reveals and hides itself. It engages the archetypal structure of African culture and the remolding of these structures by the queens of Marok, in a way which reflects their passions and desires. The work translates the way in which various modes of identity are transferred between day and night, the placid reality of life in Botswana versus the depiction of colorful individuality on social media, the loyalty to one’s family name versus the liberty in a pseudonym. It is this very fluidity that exudes a sensuality and strength in the Marok women of Botswana, the wearers of leathered skin and warriors with unchained hearts

“i believe girl rockers have strong voice over a normal society coz to be one u got to be outspoken and strong as we are always criticized. i believe facebook allows u to be who u are. Only girls who believe on themselvs nd nt afraid to express themselves can be rockers.”
- Phoenix Tonahs Slaughter

“i was aproachd by dis gentle man and he said m stayin at block 7 flats den i said oh ..dats wher we had our foto shootin..he said wat foto shootin..i explaind to him .he was like ..are u a rocker..sooo u go around draggin chains nd dead cats...i laughd nd said no..soo u datin a rocker..i said yes...he was damn!.Alryt its ok..hahahahaha da man never foned again..i believd he erased ma number from his fone"
- Amokian Lordess

“like anywhere in the world, here in Botswana people think I am a Satanist because of the black clothes. Satanism is usually associated with darkness.... they think I belong to the dark side and I usually try to explain that I pray to God and I am a Christian. Not all of us are Satanists haha but when the music play sometimes I think differently…”
- Millie Hans