An edited version of this story appears in House & Leisure November 2016

From artistic duos, to a married artist couple and a mentor and her mentee, I chat to four pairs of artists about what it’s like to work together.


It was activist-photographer Zanele Muholi’s 10-year-old Faces and Phases portrait project that connected her to Lerato Dumse, who has become a recurring participant in the series. With an almost two decade age gap, the relationship between Zanele and Lerato, a journalist and photographer, is a mentorship one guided by the award-winning photographer. They explain it:

How did you get to work together?
We met in 2010 when Lerato’s cousin asked her to be photographed by Zanele for Zanele’s Faces and Phases series. When we met, Zanele shared her plan of wanting to work with people she photographs. Our working relationship grew in 2013 when Lerato finished her journalism studies, and Zanele invited her to be part of organisation Inkanyiso Media – founded by Zanele. We have worked together since.


How would you describe your working relationship?
It’s a mentor and mentee one and an intergenerational exchange, in which Zanele shares her knowledge and skill. But It’s also a creative where contribution from both of us is valued and respected.

Can you share how you two generate ideas for your art/activism?
Lerato: Zanele usually speaks unplugged. One of my unofficial tasks is to listen carefully whenever she speaks. I usually throw the ball back in her court by taking what she says and expanding on it. Also, there are always people around who work with us. They come with their own expertise and contribute to bring these great ideas into life.

What is it like working together, and what are its benefits?
We enjoy it because we can be ourselves: free to express our sexuality, and black consciousness because we both understand what it means to be black and lesbian. We get to speak whatever language with each other; Lerato can even send an email in IsiZulu.

What have been the highlights of creating together?
Seeing Faces and Phases grow is very fulfilling. The social responsibility aspect of Faces and Phases sustains us.


Using two different practices, emerging performance artist Buhlebezwe Siwani and Chuma Sopotela, an award winning artist who works in theatre, come together to create art that tackles identity and deconstructs the representation of women’s bodies.

Friday 10th July 2015. National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa. NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL 2015! Actress Chuma Sopotela from Cape Town performs with an umbrella on Hill Street as she takes part in a 'Free Space' sidewalk performance outside the Makana Library during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. A series of images taken of various artistic, dance and theatre performance pieces and exhibited installations done by a host of artists, dancers and performers amongst others during the National Arts Festival 2015 in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa on Friday 10th July 2015. PICTURE: MARK WESSELS. 10/07/2015. +27 (0)21 551 5527. +27 (0)78 222 8777.

Chuma Sopotela

How did you meet?
Through a friend. Buhle had a performance on Bree Street and Chuma came to see it. Afterwards we had a conversation and this was the point where we knew we could have an interesting relationship regarding the type of work we make collectively.

With two practices, how do you create art meet?
We constantly merge our knowledge from these differing fields in order to create something solid for us by combining performance, theatre and art. Chuma is a trained actress and Buhle has a master’s degree from in performance, these attributes contribute to how we use form in our work.

Can you describe your work?
We have made three shows together, which have shown at Infecting the City, Theatre Arts Admin Collective and more. They’ve been a conceptual visual idea first, which we then extend by inserting ourselves in the work as moving and living black female bodies that are aware of the environment and society we inhabit.

Buhlebezwe Siwani

What is it like working together?
It’s crazy. We fight a lot, but who doesn’t? It is definitely part of our process because we are so similar. For example, Chuma hates doing paperwork or anything admin related so, Buhle does that. While Chuma engages with the practical aspect of the work like rehearsal and dreaming up the work.  this allows us a following in both the traditional art scene and the theatre scene. This is great because it creates a space for conversation which is needed in the industry at the moment.


Whether posing in leopard-print catsuits or nakedly simulating sex in the dark, Buyani Duma (Desire Marea) and Thato Ramaisa (Fela Gucci) of creative duo FAKA use their bodies to challenge gender constructs and sexuality while promoting young black queer voices. Using photography, video and installation the two tell about FAKA.

Can you share how you two met and got to the point of working together?
After hearing about each other in 2010, we found each other on Facebook, arranged to meet one Saturday, and the rest is history. We formalised our collaboration and released our first piece of sound art in 2013. It literally just happened. We knew we had to do it.


How would you describe how the two of you work; in what type of capacity?
Our individual job is that we each stay connected to our power and our collective task is always to combine those powers for the bigger thing, which is FAKA.

If you do create and together, how is intellectual property considered?
It belongs to FAKA.

In the age of the singular artist, why work as a duo?
Working as an individual artist is great but it can disconnect you from the greater source of creativity because your process is often very interior and you internalise a lot of unnecessary things. This could reduce your practice to a wankery of the ego, which is also okay. But we prefer to be more open, to externalise our ideas because that makes it less about the individual and more about the idea – the work.

And is there room for working separately at times?
Of course. Like we said, our individual job is to stay connected to our power before contributing to FAKA. We feel it’s very necessary to give each other the space to explore and pursue individual projects/interests because the growth that comes from that is always going to benefit FAKA in the end.


What is it like working together, and what are its benefits?
It’s like lightening and thunder. We’re just more powerful together.

What are the challenges of working together?
Synchronicity  – of our schedules, our thoughts and experiences – becomes a challenge the more we grow. A lot of groups or duos usually get divorced because what starts off as a fun and effortless collaboration starts to feel like a forced marriage when things get formalised and boxed in ways that don’t always accommodate the growth of the individuals who form the group.

What is the future of this union, how do you see it evolving?
We see it continuing to evolve as a movement of love, creating platforms and space for other queer and trans people to express themselves creatively.


Cape Town-based visual artists Maja and Gerhard Marx – also a renowned sculptor and filmmaker – have two very successful and separate careers, but being married with children means their practice often overlaps. Here they tell us how:

How did you meet?
Maja was living in an old forestry house in the mountains. Gerhard was hitchhiking on his own, in 1995. It’s a long story, but Gerhard knocked on Maja’s door late one night, and she made him tea and oats.

What is your working relationship like?
We both work constantly on our own individual projects. But it all overlaps unofficially, as we are always involved in what the other is making through discussion and mutual interest, and the inevitable sharing of space. Sometimes it officially overlaps:- we have created public artworks and a fair amount of performance and film together. One of the most significant to us are the Paper Pigeons sculpture in Ferreirasdorp, Johannesburg.

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Gerhard Marx. Source

If you do create and together, how is intellectual property considered?
There is a negotiation between ownership and sharing when collaborating that both sides need to remain conscious of. The challenge is to respect each collaborator’s territory and  to create something that could not have been possible if it was made by an individual.

What is it like working together, and what are its benefits?
We always interwoven in each other’s processes. That is the nature of being two artists raising kids together. We feel quite privileged to get the opportunity to engage with each other on different levels as part of a life of making things.

Do you see yourselves creating work together in the future?
Right now with the intensity of our domestic world, we both find the privacy of our own practices very attractive. We both really enjoy the luxury of our own studio environments – even if it is just a desk, or a moment to yourself. But this will shift, and curiosity will get the better of us, and then there will be new projects and collaborations.