Karabo Mooki Dogg Pound Days

Apr 27–May 28,  2023
    Karabo Mooki, Cruising Soweto, 2014. Courtesy of the artist
Karabo Mooki, Cruising Soweto, 2014. Courtesy of the artist

In the series featured in this exhibition, South African photographer Karabo Mooki explores the growing punk counterculture in Soweto and Johannesburg. Born in Soweto before moving to the suburbs of Johannesburg as a child, Mooki developed a passion for the AfroPunk skateboarding world that brings together an unlikely group of Black and white youth, crossing a divide entrenched by Apartheid.

Karabo Mooki, War Cry, 2016. Courtesy of the artist

Punk originated in America and Britain in the mid-1970s, and within these scenes exists a strong Black punk countercultural movement. Bands like Death, Pure Hell, Bad Brains, and X-Ray Spex helped shape the sound of punk, clashing with society’s stereotypical perceptions of people with dark skin. Sacha Jenkins, lead guitarist of The 1865 explains, “When you’re Black you’re punk rock all the time. There’s nothing more punk than being Black in America. I’m not saying that Black people created punk rock. I’m saying we are punk rock without even trying.”

In the post-apartheid era, the breakdown of segregated South Africa opened up new ideas about identity for the country’s youth. During this time, Mooki recognized the increasingly blurred distinctions between racial and cultural identities, as young people felt limited and disenfranchised by stereotypes and societal expectations. It was in the counterculture of punk and the subculture of skateboarding that Mooki began to understand who he was, and his photographs communicate a narrative of rebellion against the expectations he felt stifled by.

Karabo Mooki, Fatherless Kids, 2016. Courtesy of the artist

Fatherless Kids (2016) shows Black skaters taking over a suburban street in Dube, Soweto before a show put on by local punk band TCIYF. Among rows of identical homes, the youth created a free and unruly community at the Dogg Pound garage, where punks could be themselves, skateboarding and thrashing in a free environment and escaping into thrills and spills against a fast-paced soundtrack of local punk music.

The makeshift independence of DIY culture is a crucial component of punk, where everything is self-constructed, from the experimental music and performances that take place in unconventional—and, as with skateboarding, sometimes unauthorized—locations, to crews building their own ramps and filming skate sessions. Mooki’s images capture the energy of the punk/skateboarding scene—the freedom in its expressions of rage, the power that comes with asserting one’s own identity, and the culture’s deep camaraderie. The photographer draws his viewers into the action, into the chaos of the mosh pit, under the wheels of the skaters, and onto the makeshift stage. Live and Let Live (2016) depicts TCIYF guitarist Thula “Stroof” Sizwe on the floor after being electrocuted by a short-circuited fuse. Refusing to be deterred, he continues to play.

Karabo Mooki, Live and Let Live, 2016. Courtesy of the artist

Punk is an attitude—a shared will to not conform, and a thirst to create and assert one’s own sense of self. Mooki’s work gives viewers access to a counterculture that speaks to some of the ways Africa’s multicultural youth are expressing themselves in their coming of age. The artist shares with us a community unconcerned with the outsider’s gaze, unafraid of taking risks in defense of their freedom.

Curated by Musha Neluheni and Claudia Pensa Bowen

Presented by Black Artists' Networks in Dialogue in partnership with TO Live and CONTACT

Karabo Mooki is a photographer & filmmaker born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mooki is an internationally recognized talent and has won multiple industry awards for his photojournalism. His work follows unique narratives and depicts authentic life in South Africa, exploring race, gender, sexuality, and class. With his photographs in high demand as fine art prints, Mooki’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at Art Basel in Miami, New York, Sweden, Denmark, Cape Town, London, New Zealand, and Berlin. Featured in publications such as Rolling Stone and Huck, Mooki is a voice for an unapologetic generation.