Peer Review: Justice Mukheli

By Amy Hey

First Appeared in Shots on August 23, 2023

South African multidisciplinary director Justice Mukheli talks us through the work and creatives that inspire him, and explains how combining filmmaking, painting and photography helps him create complex narratives on both camera and canvas.


Who are three contemporaries that you admire?

Gabriel Moses - I love his strong African visual aesthetic that is so bold, authentic, and international.

Miles Jay - His work has depth and soul. It always leaves me feeling good. It has an authenticity that brings me closer to reality.

Greg Grey - his work is incredibly nuanced. I love his attention to detail, accuracy in representing different cultures, and building out the authenticity of his characters.

Please share 3-4 pieces of work that exemplify great direction. 

Miles Jay's music video for Jay-Z, Smile - the work is sensitive, true, and honest.

Terence Neale’s Beats by Dre commercial, Above the Noise - it holds all film genres in one piece. It's gentle and emotive. It has visual effects. It's cool and edgy but also simple.

Moonlight by Barry Jenkins - it's a beautiful visual and narrative piece that delivers a very important story.

What do you like most about the work that you do? 

Directing gives me a medium to bring together all my artistic and creative practices, including my passion for music, photography, and image-making. Through my love of filmmaking, I can contribute meaningfully to people’s lives through true, simple, authentic stories, which has always been my main desire.

What was your journey to becoming a director/artist?

I started as a fine artist, which led me into the world of advertising as an art director. I found advertising to be a fertile learning and proving ground as it helped me bring all my creative pursuits and disciplines into one composition. By the time I focused solely on directing, I understood how to express myself and use all these cross-referential disciplines to bring my visions to life.

You are a multidisciplinary artist - how do you find each aspect of your creative practice interacts with the others? 

My painting practice helps me as a director because it forces me to tell stories in depth through a single image. It helps me to learn how to layer a narrative on one canvas. As a filmmaker, sometimes we are met with explorations and limitations that force us to land a point, a feeling, or a story arc in the simplest way. This creative process benefits from working with colour, tone, and emotion.

Are there any artists who have particularly inspired you to work in this way?

Gordon Parks - I was deeply drawn into his work through his photography, but then I discovered that he was a musician, a poet, and a filmmaker. I was blown away by how he was so unlimited in his creativity, which gave me the permission to lean heavily into all my creative practices and not feel like I had to limit myself.

What is one thing all directors need?

It's hard to speak to what all directors need because people and stories are unique, and each situation is different. However, what I enjoy is the opportunity to access all parts of my creative practice through artistic exploration and collective collaboration.

Who was the greatest director of all time? Why?

I love so many directors for different things; I can't choose one director above another.

Did you have a mentor? Who was it?

Yes - Greg Grey, Tebogo Mahlatse, Angus Gibson. These local directors have contributed massively to my practice and journey by cultivating a willingness for exploration.

What's changing in the industry that all directors need to keep up with?

There are a lot of emerging creatives, directors, and artists, which makes access to opportunities a bit tricky, so it's important to have a unique voice that becomes a differentiating factor.