Brothers in photography, Hasan and Husain Essop, unveil the shadows of Cape Town’s past and present

Muslims in South Africa’s Cape province, descendants from the dissenters and slaves trafficked there from the Indian Ocean Islands by the Dutch East India Company, are often labelled as Cape Town’s picturesque others. Not in the pictures of Hasan and Husain Essop (1985, Cape Town). The Essop brothers move beyond the expected and play with fixed notions of place and identity. Their work questions perceptions of religion and tradition in a city that values keeping its apartheid-era categories.

Hasan and Husain Essop both studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in their home town. They started to work together on their first photography project, Halaal Art, which focused on Muslim youth negotiating ‘self’ and ‘other’ in a secular environment, shortly after their graduation. After Halaal Art, the young artists went through an artistic and personal journey from Remembrance – an exploration of historical and religious memory- until their latest project, Unrest, in which the twins reflect on the unrest happening in South Africa and all over the world. Unrest responds to the xenophobic violence, as well as the struggle for land, adequate housing, education and equality in South Africa.

Besides working and developing their art, both brothers have teaching degrees and work as arts facilitators in the community of Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu in the Cape Town Hout Bay area, communities shaped by poverty and the continuing treat of forced removals.

Unrest was launched at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg and will after its closure on June 20, 2015, most certainly move on to other spaces worldwide. Check here for new exhibitions and other work of the Essops.

Read the full story including an interview with Hasan and Husain Essop on the Africa is a Country blog here.

In January 2009, ZAM published a feature on the works of the Essop brothers. Available on Scribd. Scroll to page 12.

Cornelia Knoll (1981, Germany / South Africa) is a writer, researcher and consultant in the fields of arts, migration, gender and social justice. She has an MA in Sociology, Education and Anthropology.

Photo: Hasan & Husain Essop 786, 2014
Photo: Hasan & Husain Essop 786, 2014

Hasan & Husain Essop Mandela Park, 2014
Hasan & Husain Essop Mandela Park, 2014

Hasan & Husain Essop Resurrection, 2014
Hasan & Husain Essop Resurrection, 2014

Hasan & Husain Essop Athlone Superette, 2014
Hasan & Husain Essop Athlone Superette, 2014