Thando Hopa on the power of modelling

19 November 2017 - 00:00 By Paula Andropoulos

South African model Thando Hopa is storming the world stage, as her inclusion in the 2018 Pirelli Calendar indicates.
Famous for its exclusive distribution, the calendar is available only to a select group of Pirelli customers, the majority of whom are celebrities.
This year, Hopa posed alongside Whoopi Goldberg for a surreal, Alice in Wonderland-themed collection which features an entirely black cast.
Hopa chanced into modelling when she caught the notice of designer Gert-Johan Coetzee, and has subsequently embraced it as a means through which to enhance the visibility of people with albinism.
She took time out to answer some of our questions.
What are some of the challenges that you faced at the outset of your career?
Walking in high heels. Also moving more into allowing my look to actually look like me. I started to consciously move towards presenting a look for shoots where my eyebrows and eyelashes weren’t coloured. This wasn’t easy for me, because I knew that the look would be considered unconventional; but this unconventional look is a look that I, and many people across the world, have.
What do you enjoy about modelling and what do you dislike about it?
Models have the capacity to bring a visual manifestation to a word like beauty, power, sex appeal, vulnerability, strength. Models can collaborate with a photographer and make these words mean something. I like that it has that power.I dislike the fact that when its influence is misused or misinterpreted, it can propel insecurity.
The power of modelling is in how it influences image development, perception and culture. This is what is both good and bad about it.Why is your inclusion in the Pirelli calendar so significant?
When we started this venture of creating awareness and expanding on diversity, I didn’t know it would manifest in this way.
To be asked to work with icons on an iconic publication, to make a mark in the cultural development of visual storytelling, was an honour I cannot begin to express.
This was a step towards the building of legacies for generations to come, so they can build stories beyond the stereotypes that bind them.
What are some interesting facts that people might not know about you?
I acted in the first Takalani Sesame when I was a child and my character’s name was Mbali.
Why do you think that the representation of minorities is so crucial in a South African context?
Minorities become soft targets when it comes to prejudice. I am speaking about marginalised minorities. The lack of representation silences them, and makes them invisible in their society. It means they don’t matter, their struggles don’t matter, their pain doesn’t matter. They’ll inevitably be treated as almost human, but not quite. With our political history and our constitutional values, we cannot perpetuate exclusion and allow the consequences of exclusion to fester.

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