Originally from Botswana, Ungwang Boiteto is no ordinary mid-20 year old. Currently completing his final year of a Master of Architecture at NMMU in PE, he poses an obsessive curiosity that feeds his passion and gives him a liberating and humbling freedom of expression. He takes waking up every morning a pleasure and an adventure…
Tell me a little about Botswana. What’s going on there?
Well the vibes are chilled man. I’ve been in and out of Bots twice a year for over 10 years and it’s never the same every time I get back, it’s always growing and developing. There are a lot people there with tremendous potential doing “big tingz” that side, I’m sure you’ll hear about them soon.
I recently just got back from travelling around Botswana, I found everyone really happy, friendly and content with life, what is it about the country?
Well for one thing the standard of living across the demographic spectrum is pretty comfortable for an African country. I’m sure if Botswana was a radio station they’d be playing dub/reggae and kwaito, it’s laid back and happy but still very African and forward-looking. We’re a peaceful happy people, it’s our nature and our culture.
When did you start taking interest in photography.
I started about two and half years back in my third year of architecture, after being infatuated by the way in which ideas and spaces were being communicated at NMMU art exhibitions, architecture books and of course one small seed, which at the time featured a lot of work from NMMU’s Art School. I then decided to start shooting experimental compositions with my girlfriend’s camera and enrolled for a short course in photography at NMMU.
How do you feel behind a camera?
I feel like the reader of a great novel, at once taken aback by the scenery painted by the writer but still observant enough to take in and remember (and capture) the special moments that make this story of life so beautiful.
What helps you choose your subjects.
It’s a tough question because a lot of it is intuitive but I would say it’s a desire to make those people who are so vulnerable in front of the camera strong and proud in a way they never knew they were.
Sum up how you choose to live your life, in one sentence.
Ideally I’d want to sleep and do what I want in-between.
Tell me your favourite word is Setswana and what it means.
It’s my name “Ungwang” which means people must “go and be fruitful” which in my case as a creative makes sense because the fruit I bear are my ideas.
You also play music?
Yes I do, I play guitar. It started because I love the joy it brings and I wanted to give myself joy. I’m fundamentally a student of art and music so listening to music got me to play it. I want to see myself in a dub, jazz, lounge, soul or fusion band one day once I’m good enough
You also illustrate, can you tell me a little about your work.
Illustration is a more intuitive medium for me as an architecture student because it’s one of the ways we design.
It’s also the most honest and flexible way for me to express the intangible emotions and beams of light going through my head at any given point.
Again it’s a seed of the tremendous work so many talented artists out there have planted in my mind.
Give three words that capture your illustration style.
Afrocentric. Psychedelic. Textile
What have you been dreaming about?
I’ve been dreaming about African’s in space, an intergalactic African village with a martian rural landscape and the futuristic ethnic African tribes living there, think Masaai warrior meets Anakin Skywalker’s home town in Star Wars.
I’ve also been dreaming of sonic landscapes the kind you’d get if you got into the music of 1980s electro disco bands, Kraftwerk, Toro Y Moi, Little Dragon and South African groups like Dalom Kids, Mdu and Moses Molelekwa. I’m yet to put that to paper, pixel or form.
How do you think photography can help to change society?
I think it can change society by bringing awareness to the injustices of society as well as bringing out the beauty of our planet and the positive feats of humanity. Both situations can bring much needed attention to those in need and allow people to appreciate the wonderful gift that is sight.
What do you hope for the future of creativity in Botswana?
I hope that it can accept itself and mature, with public support. There are a lot of highly talented and creative Batswana who aren’t getting the necessary support from the public because the public isn’t willing to believe and support its own and because we do not have a strong culture of innovation and creativity. But like we say in Botswana ‘Go tla siama,’ which means ‘all will be well.’
How did you hear of one small seed?
I was and still am a loyal reader of the print magazine and member of the online network of creatives.
I have massive respect for the work in your magazine and am very humbled to be featured on your site, really appreciate it.
Interview by: David Plenderleith