Pure on Styling, Gender, and Indigenous Cultural Identity

Pure on Styling, Gender, and Indigenous Cultural Identity

by Lucia Gcingca - January 2023

“ Most of my looks are inspired by my feelings on that day, but Afrofuturism seems to be a common theme in my work, and nature is my greatest collaborator"

Pure (she/her/they/them) is a multi-disciplinary artist and stylist. They effortlessly combine bold, futuristic elements with a respectful nod to the past. A South African in Berlin, a genderfluid mother, and an angry lover, they perfectly embody the intersection of two worlds.

One can effortlessly gather that Pure is a talented and unique stylist who is dextrously driven by the power of self-expression. They truly believe in the ability of clothing to communicate with others. With a curious, Afrofuturistic, and intuitive style, Pure creates looks that are an extension of their inner worlds, delicately guided by intuition.

In this interview, we delve into Pure's otherworldly yet indigenous looks that go beyond the calm realm of gender-neutral and into the complex ​​cosmos of gender-free.

What inspired you to pursue styling in a professional sense?

I've always been really fascinated by telling stories using different mediums. My earliest memories of expression involved live performances after the 7 pm news on SABC 1, of me in full drag delivering a piece I had prepared for my family for that evening. I was always altering my normal clothes, borrowing items (without permission) from my family's cupboards to elevate my looks, always in conversation with these items, and negotiating around how far I was allowed to go with it without getting into trouble for looking too outrageous.

Photographer: Retha Ferguson I Stylist: Pure I Model: Pure

The more I tried exploring this deeper with curiosity, the quicker I realised that it brought my family a sense of shame they couldn't understand. Being "normal/acceptable" meant that they didn't have to answer funny questions from the neighbours wondering about my sanity and state of mind. 

So I suppressed it for a long time until I was in uni, out of the house, and away from the Christian gaze. I leaned fully into all my creative rituals without limitations. Styling, for me, has always been about unapologetic self-love and showing up in the world in full colour, proudly. It meant that I could be myself, which brought me joy - it was transformative!

I started observing others and their expressive decisions, and it really intrigued me how garments illuminated this internal world and how we're so attuned to it. We communicate with others through clothing, largely without even intending to. I became fascinated with this form of communication.

When I decided to pursue this on other bodies/professionally, I was fixated on the conversations I could have when I coupled this with movement. For me, styling is clothing in movement, so I prefer to direct it after the garments are on the models because, to me, there is an obvious thread that runs between the two.

Could you describe your style in 3 words?

Curious. Afrofuturistic. Intuitive.

Photographer: Hayden Phipps For: The Lake Magazine Model: Pure

What are some of your favourite looks in your work and why?

My alternative looks are an extension of my inner worlds: other selves, memories, dreamings, and future stories. This is where I get to really play and reimagine.

These all relied on my intuitive decision-making, so I never really planned them at all. I perhaps will have an idea of the colours I was to work with, but what comes out of it is truly guided by intuition and trusting the process.

Are there certain types of looks that photograph best?

In my personal experience with my work, nature is an incredible backdrop. Whether it's editorial, documentary, or experimentally styled shoots, no matter what the styling looks like, it immediately offers something so timeless and beautiful.

What is your indigenous cultural identity, and how do they traditionally see gender?

I'm half Somali and half Swati, but I was raised in Durban, so very Zulu. From the modern rural Zulu context, gender roles are clearly delineated and patriarchal, with males seen as the head of the family and female narratives subordinated in value and status, even though the reality would depict otherwise.

There are moments in the language itself, though, where it shows gender sensitivity when they address both genders without singling out or giving any preference.

Photographer: Donovan Orr  For:  Bubblegum Club Magazine | Model: Pure

Gender bias, gender inequality, and gender stereotypes are drenched within the Zulu household, and these gendered practices, as we know, play a huge role in GBV [Gender Based Violence]  and other normalised problematic practices within this community.

This is sad because ancient Zulu, along with many other African clans for thousands of years, were matriarchal, and they prospered.

How does this inspire your work?

As a black femme-bodied human, it's almost unavoidable not to use my work to dispute these topics. Which is both retraumatizing and exhausting. My works have centralised this way of creating and sharing because 'what else do I write/move/sing about?"

The work becomes the place for vocal activation and release. I'm currently being called to still places in nature to listen and allow for a new integration - Healing. I'm fatigued!

I'm pouring love and tenderness into these parts of myself by honoring my creative practice as a sacred portal for transformation and going beyond the physical narrative of my being.

In your opinion… How is indigenous culture currently shaping Genderfree Beauty (& Fashion) today?

Fluidity has always existed within Indigenous peoples prior to European dominance. In fact, they brought the constructs of gender being two non-interchangeable absolutes - it was their invention.

Photographer: Rudi Geyser | Model: Pure

We see it in almost all indigenous tribes across the world, with esthetics/make-up being at the forefront of these identities and not reserved for any specific gender. Rather using these as a form of communication, expression, and ritual.

Fashion has always had distinct looks for men and women, but when they slowly started integrating more fluid interpretations, they mimicked indigenous culture - because it's nothing new! And there you have it.

How does it feel to be in the diaspora? What key differences do you note between being in Europe vs being in Africa? 

I miss the warmth of strangers, man! We take for granted the vibrancy, community-like spirit, and being seen.

"Sawubona" as a greeting literally means I see you, and I'm feeling the weight of not being with my people. It's really interesting how immediate this felt in a space where everything works efficiently and everyone is really taken care of - smiles are so far between.

What influence is this having on your work?

It's drawing me closer and closer to nature - the only thing that remains familiar and constantly nourishing. My place of safety and inspiration is where most of my work will be created.  It's also allowing me to lean deeper into my spirituality and integrate it into my creative practice.

Work that is not informed by capitalism (which is also a western construct) and fitting into industries but a creation that offers collective forms of healing incubators.

What are you currently working on? Or do you have any interesting projects in the pipeline?

I'm in Europe to replenish myself and strip away all the toxic layers that are expected of me as an artist which have forced me to create from a place of pain, fear, and being invisible.

I'm here on foreign soil to reclaim/reactivate my right to create from a place of joy, calm, and ease.

Lucia Gcingca (b.1986) is a Cape Town-based queer writer, researcher, translator and musician from Durban. Formally trained in Journalism and Media Studies, Lucia currently works as a researcher and writer for a Pan African Non-Profit organisation called The Music in Africa Foundation. She spends most of her free time taking notes in the front row of live music events within Cape Town and its surrounds, fulfilling her role as a contributing writer for the city's foremost youth and lifestyle magazine, The Lake Magazine. It has been strongly rumoured that Lucia is not a person but 3 David Bowie outfits in a trench coat.