LEATHER SKINS, UNCHAINED HEARTS
Sub Saharan female Heavy Metal fans
by Paul Shiakallis
If one was to picture a typical Heavy Metal fan, it would most likely be a young guy with a strong resemblance to James Hatfield circa 1982… Blowzy pimpleface, layered long hair, a cut-off denim or leather vest with a plethora of patches, skinny jeans and klunky basketball sneakers. Also with an unwitting association to a rocker type male Caucasian.
But never underestimate the power of music. There’s an underground minority forming a Heavy Metal subculture in orthodox Botswana. It’s called “Marok” which means “rocker” in English. Surprisingly enough, there are female Marok too. The Marok have their own language of fashion, merging different style influences. A main influence is the cover of Motorhead’s 1980 published record Ace of Spades. Then there are Botswana’s bikers with their tasseled leather jackets and black boots, plus the cowboy gear worn by many of the country’s farmers. The Marok scene is small, so Botswana’s metal bands like Crackdust, Skinflint, Overthrust or Amok only play shows every other month. It’s like a tribe gathering and Marok from all over Botswana show up, even if they have to travel hundreds of kilometres.
South African photographer Paul Shiakallis first became aware of the Marok phenomena when a friend invited him to a rock show in Gaborone, Botswana, in 2010.
“I saw mostly men dressed like cowboys in black leather. There were not a lot of people that attended the festival, so they were very easy to pick out from the crowd.”
In 2014 he shot the series “Leather Skins, Unchained Hearts” documenting the female Maroks.
They call themselves Queens and break down stereotypes of a male dominated subculture. What makes it even tougher for them is the patriarchal society they live in. Some of the Queens expose their metal identity only on facebook.
Paul Shiakallis explores and shows the strain between Botswanan patriarchy and nonconforming self-expression. His portraits of the female Marok are a look into their stray away from the limits of convention and family life for these women.
Most of the portraits are shot in the homely environment of the protagonists. This creates a powerful contrast to the subject of Heavy Metal. Please give further insight why you’ve chosen this staging.
From my experience, the Marok mostly come from lower income bracket households. It was important to show that they did not come from a life of luxury. Leather is expensive, and for them to spend money on it, shows that they are truly dedicated to the movement.
You said that "every portrait I took almost never happened. Sometimes, the Queens' boyfriends or husbands would thwart the shoots since they didn't want their partners to be photographed by, or even in the presence of, another male.“ Why is that and how difficult and maybe even dangerous is it for these brave women to partake in the scene?
Botswana has a patriarchal society. Some men feel like they have ownership over their women; they dictate what she does, where she goes and who she talks to. This is a bit ironic because part of being a metal head is the freedom and independence it should afford you. The Queens that are single have much more freedom than the ones who have boyfriends. Some of the boyfriends of the Queens are not rockers and they do not appreciate their women being part of such a scene; I met a couple of Queens that would go to rock shows in secret, either against their parent’s or their boyfriend’s wish.
The biggest obstacle that the Queens face is public opinion. Botswana is quite religious, 70% of the public are Christian, and about 90 % of their TV channels are church programs. Black leather is never really seen in a good light by the locals; they tend to think the Marok are some unruly satanic cult. The Botswana expect their females to be decent, lady-like and subservient, anything out of the ordinary is shunned. It’s much harder to be a rocker as a female than it is as a male. I wouldn’t say it is dangerous to be in the scene, once you are in and you are accepted by the others, you are considered part of the family. Anything that involves metal music, socialising, drinking, funerals, is done together with the men.
Text: Erik Hüsken