Ayana V Jackson in conversation with Senzeni Marasela (Koop Projects)

© Senzeni’s project, THEODORAH COMES TO JOHANNESBURG, 2004


23rd April 2024

Acclaimed artist Ayana V Jackson in conversation with Senzeni Marasela, who will present works with Koop Projects at Discovery at Photo London in May. One of the most exciting artists working in South Africa today, Marasela’s fascinating, multilayered practice — which includes photography, performance, textile and sculpture – is rooted in storytelling, melding South African history to personal, family memories. Marasela, who was included in the 56th Johannesburg Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2015) and presented a solo exhibition at Zeitz MOCAA (2020 -2021) discusses her practice with Ayana V Jackson, an artist working with film and photography to, and the founder of Still Art, a residency programme in Johannesburg, where Marasela was recently artist in residence.


Born in 1977 in Thokoza, Senzeni Marasela lives and works in Soweto, South Africa. Senzeni Marasela is a cross-disciplinary artist who explores photography, video, prints, and mixed-medium installations involving textiles and embroidery. Her work deals with history, memory, and personal narrative, emphasising historical gaps and overlooked figures. She graduated from the University of Witswatersrand, Johannesburg, in 1998, and shortly thereafter completed a residency at the South African National Gallery, culminating in her work for the Gallery’s Fresh exhibition series. Marasela’s work has been widely exhibited in South Africa, Europe, and the United States. Her work features in prominent local and international collections, including the Newark Museum, Smithsonian Institution and MoMA, New York, as well as some private collections such as the Leridon collection in Paris, the Harry David collection in Athens and the Sindika Dokolo collection in Angola. She was part of the 56th Johannesburg Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2015).

In 2023 Senzeni Marasela became the first recipient of the K21 Global Art Prize in Dusseldorf. The Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen museum acquired work from her project Waiting For Gebane.

Solo exhibitions include: Waiting for Gebane: Dolly Parton (Toffee Gallery, Darling: 2018); Sarah, Theodorah and Senzeni in Johannesburg (Art on Paper, Johannesburg: 2011); Beyond Booty: Covering Sarah Baartman and other Tales (Axis Gallery, New York: 2010); “Oh my God you look like shit. Who let you out of the house looking like that?” (Solo performance, Sternersen Museum, Oslo: 2009); JONGA – Look at Me! A Museum of Women, Dolls and Memories (Devon Arts Residency: 2009); Three Women, Three Voices (Johannesburg Art Gallery: 2004); and Fresh (South African National Gallery, Cape Town: 2000).

Group exhibitions include: Black Womanwood: Icons, Images and Ideologies of the African Body, (Hood Museum of Art, New Hampshire and the San Diego Museum of Art: 2008), Impressions from South Africa: Printed Art/1965 to Now (MoMA, New York: 2011) DARKROOM: South African Photography and New Media 1950 – Present (Virginia Museum of Fine Art and the Birmingham Museum of Art: 2013). More recently, she was part of I am”¦ Contemporary Women Artists of Africa (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC: 2019), and Made Visible: Contemporary South African Fashion and Identity (Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: 2019)

A proud alumna of the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Lee continues to deepen her artistic journey. Currently, she is honing her craft further as she pursues an MFA in Photography at the esteemed School of the Art Institute of Chicago.



Ayana V. Jackson (b. 1977 in East Orange, New Jersey; lives and works between Brooklyn, NY and Johannesburg, South Africa) uses archival impulses to assess the impact of the colonial gaze on the history of photography.  By using her  lens  to deconstruct 19th and early 20th century portraiture, Jackson questions photography’s authenticity and role in perpetuating socially relevant and stratified identities.

Jackson’s practice maps the ethical considerations and relationships between the photographer, subject, and viewer, in turn exploring themes around race, gender and reproduction. Her work examines myths of the Black diaspora and re-stages colonial archival images as a  means  to liberate the Black body.  The various titles of her series nod to the stories she is reimagining. Jackson often casts herself in the role of historical figures to guide their narrative and directly access the impact of photography and its relationship to the human body.

Jackson’s work is collected by major local and international institutions including The Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, New York), The Newark Museum (Newark, New Jersey), J. P. Morgan Chase Art Collection (New York, New York), Princeton University Art Museum (Princeton, New Jersey), The National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia), The Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago, Illinois) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Seattle, Washington). Jackson was a 2014 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow for Photography and the recipient of the 2018 Smithsonian Fellowship.

In 2022, Jackson founded Still Art, an artist residency program focused on emerging Southern African contemporary artists of all disciplines in Johannesburg. From the Deep: In the Wake of Drexciya, her first major institutional exhibition at the National Museum of African Art – Smithsonian Institution opened in April 2023.