Hishaam Abrahams Captures the Authenticity of People of Colour in Cape Town


Hishaam Abrahams is a 20-year-old film photographer, who is in his first year out of High School. Hishaam considers himself a person of the people who strives to show affection and generosity to all fellow humans since love will always power through. He grew up in a middle-class Coloured community (Surrey Estate) in the heart of the Cape Flats. The area is positioned right in the middle of multiple low-income poverty impoverished communities such as Mannenburg and Hanover Park, infected by impurities such as drug abuse and heavy gang violence. He says these problems directly affected his upbringing since both his parents were drug abusers, "I grew up mainly with a grandmother as a guardian. I managed to escape this reality by attending Trafalgar High School located in the CBD, but later in my High School career I lost this privilege and transferred to a High school in Mannenburg." 

"I suffered from depression since I assumed that the elements of the environment would too ensure that success would be a distant dream, to an extent I frowned upon my own culture. Only later to realize that once you embrace it and only extract the positives, the true beauty within is revealed." His raw and authentic photography captures Coloured youth in Cape Town and serves as representation for an ethnic group that has been marginalized in South Africa, but the tides are shifting and young people like him and others are creating new narratives for a more inclusive society.  

How did your journey in photography begin? I grew up with a very artistic older brother who had a high skill in drawing. I witnessed how he used art to distract his mind from the troubles and issues faced. I, on the other hand, couldn't draw to save my life but as my brother and I were so much alike, deep down knew I had an artistic mind. I knew my art form would be located in a different medium but remained patient as only time could reveal this. I was obsessed with going through old family albums with images that were shot on film. Not only would these images remind me of past better days, but they would create a sense of comfort that better times would be portrayed in the future. Time continued and after years of practising self-awareness, I traced this obsession with film images and realized that not only does photography have the ability to change perspective but also create a sense of comfort and security. I managed to gather enough money to purchase a film camera mid-year matric and fell in love with the art. I had finally found the art form that would help me overcome the ups and downs of reality, the art medium I endlessly searched for as a youth, film photography. I then started to capture moments in my daily life only for my own interest in the art, it eventually led to me conceptualising and capturing images that would capture the feel and look of an authentic Cape Coloured. Why is it personally significant for you to represent the Coloured community in your photography? Definitely, as a person of colour, I always felt that our culture was hardly authentically represented. Nothing on any social media platforms ever really hit home. I then saw the need to produce content that encapsulates me staying true to myself and representing who I truly am. This would simultaneously represent Cape coloureds as a whole. Mainly because I as an individual see it important to truly embrace one's own culture, in this helps me stay authentic as well as produce authentic content. With the use of photography as a tool to change perspectives about our culture as well as encourage the coloured community to truly embrace it themselves.

How does your community use fashion as a means of expressing culture and identity? Cape coloureds are a mixture of multiple different races, Dutch, the San people, Xhosa etc. Therefore, they are more easily influenced by other cultures and trends. Even down to the Cape slang which embodies multiple languages. These influences have moulded the culture and fashion sense into a truly unique one, one that draws inspiration from multiple cultures. Not only does expressing our unique sense of fashion generate a sense of belonging and unity, it also helps a body of people that were previously oppressed, to dress good (yak jahs), feel good, do better. Which is a strong trait associated with people of colour, to strive and prosper.

Are there any misperceptions or stereotypes that you feel society still project onto the coloured community, if so, what are they and how do you think things can improve?

Most definitely, I feel that the media often project people of colour with the image of gangsterism, violence, drugs and crime. The sad fact is that this image is due to a minority that has been forced to resort to this lifestyle due to years of oppression, poverty and difficult living conditions. Whereas the majority of coloured people are loving, radiant and immensely vibrant in culture and expression in all forms. They too are affected and ashamed of this misconceptions. I believe the only way to combat this misconception is to produce content/media that highlights the beauty and luminous culture of coloured people.

What do you want coloured people to celebrate and honour about their identity? I would love for coloured people to celebrate their uniqueness and rich history, through their freedom of expression. In all forms, fashion, music, sport etc. And honour their identity by truly expressing themselves through art unapologetically, as being unique is something to feel proud and privileged about. Your photography often makes references the Cape Flats, why is important for you to represent that part of Cape Town? The Cape Flats is an area of great historical and cultural value that is often untold. The people of colour who inhabit this area are immensely diverse and contain huge amounts of talent and potential in all fields. I represent the Cape Flats as I feel honoured to be part of this culture, and see the growing need to nurture and contribute towards the growth of the culture. My aim is to use my passion for photography to expose the untold stories and shine a light on their unexposed potential. With the aim of educating people of colour to be aware of their hidden potential and help them to believe in themselves, and achieve the impossible. Exponential growth. 

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