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Art, Culture

Power to the People

by Samora Chapman / Images by Sheldon Wins / 05.03.2014

It’s New Year’s at Smoking Dragon in the KZN midlands and all the cool kids are out to play. It’s been a long year toiling in the harsh economic sunshine and the youth are more than ready to shed 365 shackles, indulge the senses and metamorph into new beings as the clock strikes midnight.

Deep in the mix is one Sheldon Wins, gung-ho photographer and artist, who remembers (in the midst of the madness) that he’s s’posed to be producing some content for a Jozi website, but that’s tomorrow’s concern.

The next day Sheldon ropes in some fellow Durbanites for an impromptu photo shoot. Musos, activists, arteests, academics and some who just look good on camera are dragged into the dream scene. A psychedelic T-shirt bearing the peaceful, smiling face of a Hindu deity is thrown in as a prop and the shoot begins.


Snap, snap, the camera flashes and everyone’s sucked down a creative rabbit hole for an hour or two, lost in the bliss of make-believe, for just a moment, playing dress up.

And when the shutter click-clacks on the last frame, the collective disperse, they’re all smiling ‘cos they’ve contributed to something they feel is pure, beautiful.

Or at least, so they thought.

A few days later Sheldon Wins sits editing the images from the shoot. He’s got butterflies ‘cos the pics are so dope. The colours pop. The spontaneity and the energy are tangible. The moments are there.

He uploads, he shares, he tags, he sets the pics free on the spiderweb, where his artworks can be seen. They rack up a storm of Likes, they go viral. And then something goes wrong…

Sheldon awakes the next day to find the images, his images, splashed across the front page of The Post newspaper;‘Is this offensive… or is it art?” demands the headline. It’s like being hit by a wall of cold water. The phone rings. His inbox starts to sing, he begins to sweat.

The newspaper article declares to the world (or Durban at least) that The Hindu community is outraged. Sacrilege! Racism! Drug-induced Pornography! Like bolts of angry lightning sent by the gods, the insults rain down.


Perhaps it was ignorant to mix nudity with religion, but the artists involved all claim that the intention behind the work was not to mock or to trivialise the oldest religion in the world. Sheldon’s intent was to document a moment in time – a group of people celebrating life and working together in a productive way. That energy is inherent in every image.

Does that justify the work or address the hurt caused? I guess not. At the end of the day, the “message” – what the artwork communicates – is, in my opinion, equally as important as the aesthetic.

Foresight is a fickle bastard that eludes the best of us at times.

Sheldon Wins, the models and artists involved were not afforded the opportunity in the mainstream media to respond in full to the outcry over the photos. So they have created a BLOG to respond to the issues raised, provide an artists’ statement and motivation behind the collection. The blog is about creating a sincere space for engagement and dialogue, where the artists strive to understand, address and work towards resolving issues surrounding the images.

tatoos are nice

The advent of social media means that just about everyone is now a publisher. Everything tossed into the public domain will be consumed, judged, scrutinised and appropriated – and this is often forgotten with the modern avalanche of information and messages that come to us from cyber space.

Art has always been responsible for pushing boundaries, reflecting and reacting to social, political, and economic realities, and being a bastion of free, unadulterated expression. But artists and content creators still need to own what they create, and take responsibility for it. And that’s what these artists have done with their blog… even if it is in retrospect of the work being published.

Ultimately, you, the people decide. You keep the artists, politicians, publishers, commentators and fat cats in check. You decide what is wrong and what is right. You have a voice in mahala (on our comments board), and on the artists’ blog itself. You give the work meaning. Onward!

All images © Sheldon Wins

*Images first published on JHB Live

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Dude great artwork,but someone has crossed the line with mixing nudity and religion,highly offensive!fair enough it’s a psychedelic design but it’s not that hallucinogenic when you’re wearing designs depicting other peoples gods and portraying them in such a disrespectful light,would you do that to Jesus or mother Mary???, I think not!people pray to those deities and there you guys are depicting them in a pscychedelic porno stigma!!

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  2. Kashmir says:

    “Sheldon’s intent was to document a moment in time – a group of people celebrating life and working together in a productive way. That energy is inherent in every image.”——-that intent he speaks of does not come through in his work and art is for interpretation, irrespective of intent. whether he intended to offend or not-he has definitely done so, and his ignorrance comes through loud and clear.

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  3. creep says:

    Obnoxious nuance averse boho retards. The ignorance doesn’t lie in the “mix” of nudity and religion (the old masters slipped nudity into religious themes) but the reduction of a very old, very vital faith to wallpaper, a backdrop, scenery.

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  4. Phlanck says:

    If it’s so offensive why aren’t the gods doing anything about it? nothing has been desecrated. if anything these pictures are creating positive vibes towards the religion. these pictures are awesome, very vivid too. to say that they are insulting just shows how small minded you are.

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  5. paul says:

    religions are ridiculous and great for mickey taking.
    only vulnerable people hurt and Post knows how to get to them.

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  6. C-sta says:

    Are these photos not a true reflection of the current attitude towards religion? Religious groups have to embark on major marketing strategies to recruit new members and churches have to combine services to get the seats full on Christmas… We don’t take religion as serious as we use to… These photos mirror that, surely it’s upsetting to religious people… Doesn’t mean the artist is in the wrong…

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  7. de-bongz says:

    Sheldon you took the pics, you are the only one who knows at what state your models were and including yourself when you took the pics right (rhetoric), You could’nt have been sober really!…i mean i can see and feel the hilarity, spontaneity and deliriousness of the moment and that i attribute to blissful of the occasion. Okay the pics show your artistry and your poised manner. That is fine…

    Turning point however…i believe you deliberately insinuated this matter very well knowing that this could evoke an up-roar to the Hindu community and that’s that, you lost your focus and control and you inevitably became insensitive.


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  8. Super D says:

    I reckon the pics are awesome, I was born a Hindu but no longer practice any form of religion. I prefer to explore the spiritual path. One of the main reasons I lost any hope for religion is because of the so called staunch Hindu plonkers who are complaining about these pics. The fact that they are in a state of uproar about the artists work, is a direct contradiction of what it means to be Hindu. I would safely say that 90% of South African Indians who claim to committed, dedicated Hindu’s have no clue what Hinduism is. The heads of Hindu organizations that claim to be dedicated Hindu’s that are also fighting for the use of fireworks during diwali are so disillusioned that they do not even realize how UN-HINDU they are being. It doesn’t matter how many times you fast in a week or how many times you go to the temple or how many hours in a day you spent praying the bottom line is if you are fighting for a pleasure/luxury (Fireworks) that you know very well causes trauma to other living creatures as well as frustrates other members of your surround areas then please don’t call yourself a Hindu. The same applies to complaining about this work of art, who are you to take offense and take action against this artist? Did the Hindu gods come down and tell you “Hey sort this mother fcker out?” No, they did nothing, how do you know that they don’t think this artwork rocks?? Who the fck are you to decide that it’s offensive to the gods? Wake up! 🙂

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  9. mupher says:

    erm… if these ‘religious’ t-shirts are so ‘holy’ and sacred- why are they sold to anyone that is not a practicing Hindu- I guess its ok to spin money from your religion and then lash out when you have created something that your elders frown upon…. the t-shirts tin this instance is merely another colourful medium to the artist… there is no connotation attached to Hinduism… I think these kids all rock 🙂

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  10. Anonymous says:

    I am a hindu, I consider myself to be opened minded and I am an artist as well. Art is subjective, and Sheldon as a photographer did convey his message of the free spirited and spontaneous moment captured.

    Honestly, somewhere between editing the photos and publishing them, you should have known that the hindi community would be up in arms over the mixture of nudity and religion.

    I agree with de-bongz , “… you lost your focus and control and you inevitably became insensitive. “

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  11. Manjunath says:

    Bastards, respect all the other religon as all religions has its own respect.
    if you so much of creativity try with your religious thing in the same manner.

    If you fucking people ethits, try to come up with different idea.

    This is an art of bastardism.
    Your bastards parents might have the same idea or might be from the same line, because of which the output is what I see.

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  12. brajesh says:

    this is not art, you peoples are animal ,no sence of humuninty , respect our religion , other wise time will teach you soon

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