Project

The Queens of Marok: Botswana’s Female Rockers

Photographer from Johannesburg captured the self-expression of African women in music.

Paul Shiakallis Age 34

Born and lives in Johannesburg. Studied journalism and photography. Published his works in The Guardian, Hyde Magazine, Feature Shoot, The Cut, Wonderful Machine, and many other media outlets.

I was invited to a music festival in Gaborone, Botswana in 2011, and that’s when I first saw the women of Marok, the underground heavy metal movement. Then, in 2014, I attended another show. Two Queens (what the female rockers like to call themselves) asked me to take their photos, and we exchanged numbers. When I came back home, I started to explore their profiles on social media, and I began to see the kind of dual lives they were living. On their profiles they had images of friends and family, happy birthday messages, hearts and flowers etc; and then the next post was them in full leather gear and illustrations of skulls and fire.

I wanted to show that gender and racial roles can be challenged even within a patriarchal system.

The Marok were introduced to the international media in 2011. The men of the movement had always been at the forefront, and I decided I wanted to give the women a voice. In Botswana, it is harder to become a rocker as a woman than as a man, as the Batswana follow the typical ‘man of the house’ patriarchal system. A man can do as he pleases with little criticism from outsiders.

Some Queens were very keen, others were wary of where images were going to end up or felt like I was going to exploit them. I offered printed photographs in exchange. When it came down to photographing them, I encountered numerous obstacles. My biggest obstacle was that their husbands or boyfriends were thwarting the shoots. They did not want their women to gain recognition as one of the Marok, nor did they want them to be in the presence of another man, especially in their homes.

It means a lot to know that it’s okay to be part of something out of the norm.

With this project, Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts, I wanted to show that gender and racial roles can be challenged even within a patriarchal system. Music is not always race, gender or religion specific; it is food for the soul and can be a catalyst for change. The mood of the images is subtle. Although shows can get quite rowdy, the Queens of Marok are loving, caring people.

When I first met the Marok I was quite culture shocked. It means a lot to know that it’s okay to be part of something out of the norm. As a photographer, I am proud to have created something powerful out of a very challenging and stressful project.

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