In her photo series Closed Doors, Jo’burg photographer Remofiloe Sebobe (21) uses her story of growing up with an absent mother to make us interrogate the dysfunction of our families. Fee fie, as Remofiloe’s known online, busts open the conversations that our parents and families want to keep locked.
When Fie fee began shooting Closed Doors in September 2014, her mom had just come back home and re-entered her daughter’s life. Her mother has a substance abuse problem, and her coming in and out of her child’s life is a regular in their relationship.
“She has missed Christmas, birthdays and my growth,” says Fie fee. “But she always manages to begin the year with me before she leaves again. My mother became much like a New Year’s resolution – never to be seen again after the first week of January. I’ve become accustomed to that.”
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As a young adult, Fie fee felt she needed a piece of her mother that would remain even if she was not physically present. Closed Doors, which she began as part of her final year project as a photography student at the Market Photo Workshop in 2014, is a visual reference of her mother’s existence in her life.
The power of Closed Doors is that it touches on a common experience of dysfunction in many families. It makes us aware of what society has boxed us to believe is a perfect home. Fee fie doesn’t give answers: she is questioning us. What about marriage in broken families? What would be better? Having a single parent or a mother and a father?
When Fee fie’s mom left home at the beginning of the year, she was also leaving her daughter in the middle of producing her body of work, in her final year of studying. But the story had to continue. So Fee fie began photographing herself and her boyfriend at that time, where they staged images, playing mother and father. Playing the “perfect couple”, she was questioning our established family issues. Indeed opening doors that our parents and families always want to remain locked.
“My project came to a halt by year end. I didn’t see the need to continue at all…” When you look at Fee fie’s new work, which tackles sexuality and intimacy, you get the sense that she is moving on from being a kid and facing the challenges of a grown woman. Fee fie, a self-taught fine artist who works in various mediums, works as a freelance photographer.
In Closed Doors, she says she’s said what she needed to say and expressed her frustration with her mother, too. She has also realised, she says, that her mother will always be the woman who carried her. “She carried me for five months. She was scared by birth and felt no need to be a mother.”
When she is around, “she plays her role briefly, and then vanishes like she never existed”. So she’ll ask after her about her boyfriend or remind her to come home early.
“But, in a way she’s more of a best friend, a pillar of strength and the only reason why I aspire for more. My mother needs me more than I need her: she needs a mom, a friend and a daughter. I need to grow up and be just that.