Zandile Ndhlovu is South Africa’s first Black Female Freediving instructor and the founder of The Black Mermaid Foundation, an organization seeking to create diverse representation in The Ocean Arena’s work centre’s around enabling access to ocean spaces for local ocean-facing communities in hopes of diversifying ocean spaces recreationally, professionally, and in sport while creating a new generation of ocean guardians. As a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, she is able to make use of these skills in her advocacy while working to reshape narratives through storytelling. She has contributed to global topics that include Ocean Conservation, Climate Change, Coastal Justice and capacitating the youth to participate in the Blue Ocean Economy. Zandile is a change agent, using her voice to create the needed expansion in society while reshaping narratives through her work in the Foundation, Public Speaking and Film.
How have your life experiences influenced your art? How did that shape you into who you are today?
I think it is hard to dream of existing in art spaces when you grew up in hardship, poverty, or otherwise. And so, I think my journey in the capture is always seeking my own softness, a hope that every capture may land in the way I most hope—the awe of the physical and the curiosity of whatever it is I am capturing in the moment. I am forever being shaped by the ocean. I think this is what life is: the continuous presence to the present moment, except it can get tricky when you’re changing settings underwater while on one breath Freediving… I love it. How has it shaped me? Learning that in any moment of fear, it is not to run or be afraid but to take a pause to take in what is happening is an impactful way to lead life. Perhaps to add in, I grew up in Soweto; no ocean worlds peeked our wonder here, but we loved the water. The annual or bi-annual trips to water parks were powerful. I’m inspired by the laughs that were… to essentially have very little, and even in this little, wild, unaltered joy.
What inspires you?
This is a hard question I find. Life inspires me: the sun, the water, the winds, the trees, the mountains, the ants… I am stimulated by life, inspired by the rising sun, wild and calm waters, breezes and gale-force winds… I love observing all parts of life; its like my life flute.
What do you love about what you do?
I love the vastness of the world I get to live in, that is at best ridiculously marvelous, from mantis shrimp who’s sound can break glass, all while its this colorful unassuming creeping beauty, unicorn fish, and dolphins that are stimulated by our laughter, Bull Sharks that sass you out, measure your will, and humpback whales that come to birth with their besties, and seeing their little calf learn to use its tail—its the things we don’t see on land in the greater, the idea that the massive size humpback whales get to be, all starts something like us—needing to learn to use the fullness of our legs, our arms, our voice…
I find the ocean mind-blowing, and then just the vastness and how much we still don’t know about our oceans… and so intertwining this into story—a story of what is, a story of hope for
the future, a story of possible belonging for all, a story of the collectives ability to create change, particularly speaking to ocean conservation and protection. What I love the most is being able to bring these moments up to land and find a way to land in ways that bring us closer to the oceans.
What is that one thing you have learned about yourself that’s unique and you would like to share?
Hmmm, this is a hard question, but perhaps I’d say I’ve learned that you don’t have to fit in; its okay to be odd. When you can embrace the beauty of your odd, there is gold to be found. And maybe in my own language of uniqueness, it is knowing the power of deep presence—the ability to receive the gift of the present in every single moment, however hard or good.
What do you hope to see unfolding for the genre, Womxn in Photography’ in the future?
I hope to see more Black Women in wildlife photography, expanding the eye through which we observe and appreciate art forms that are wildlife-facing.
If you had one piece of advice for other womxn, what would it be?
To start. To do crazy things. To make the village crazy. To silence the noise. If it feels right to you, keep going; you will eventually find a safe landing for the full birthing of your dream in safety.
What other projects are you working on currently that we can look forward to?
I travel to São Tomé in January and am looking forward to seeing their whale shark populations and hopefully even more megafauna! São Tomé recently discovered the amazing’mapinta’ (whale shark) on their shores and are working to get more young people diving while working to understand the population and their numbers in the region, a really exciting project that I cannot wait to capture!
What is your next goal?
Curating an Art Gallery/ Exhibition of the Underwater World through my eyes with select pieces for sale
Recently featured on: