Category Archives: Photography

Queercide: Campaign Against Violence Against Women – Why We Must Document

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In 2012 there were 10 murders of black lesbians, gays and transgender people in South Africa. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which includes the death penalty and makes LGBTI people and anyone or organisation that supports or helps them, into illegal citizens, has once again been tabled in Parliament and once again delayed – all in the space of a month. There is no guarantee that it will not resurface in 2013. In Nigeria, the “Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill” has been passed unchallenged by both Houses and is awaiting a final reading in the House Chamber.

In South Africa, Queercide, like other social phenomena is being driven by a set of social conditions in this case, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, government inaction and community silence. In Uganda and Nigeria, religious fundamentalism and a weak and disinterested civil society are the driving and enabling forces respectfully. These expressions of the logic of domination are the punishment for daring to digress from arbitrary norms.

It is in this context that Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases exhibition opened at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on 27th November, 2012. Faces and Phases is an ongoing body of work which began in 2007 with the intention of creating an archive of Black lesbian lives and ensuring black queer visibilities. Faces expresses the person and Phases signifies the stages of those expressions. It is a personal experience and journey for Muholi as a visual activist and the people she photographs.

What I love about Zanele’s work is the strength of performance, the way the faces breathe. The portraits are in different poses. One can hear the voices of those who look directly into the camera. But still, there remains an untold story behind each portrait. Visible yet partially invisible. Invisible yet partially visible. I like that. Photographs capture a moment in history. W.J.T. Mitchell wrote a book “What Do Pictures Want?” I think we should ask this question when we look at the photos in Faces and Phases. People and places are layered and I would prefer it, if we could take the time to unpack the layers instead of diving in and ripping everything apart. Read my story and create your own through your imagination. The same goes for Zanele’s photographs.

From the beginning the impetus for Muholi’s work has been on the one hand, to disrupt sexual and gender norms whilst also highlighting the intersectionality of gender, sexual orientation, race and class both in homophobic acts of violence and the response to these acts of violence. Faces and Phases III consists of 60 black and white portraits and as Muholi points out there is a reason ‘there are no smiling faces here’ – their visibility has become a dangerous one. One that has lead to rape, torture and murder including some of Muholi’s collaborators. The constitutional right to be who you are and choose visibility over the closet, becomes a symptom of vulnerability. Homophobia, hate and inertia become the destructive powers that ridicule the protection of the constitution.

In her exhibition Isilumo Siyaluma* Zanele uses her own menstrual blood as a way to begin to articulate and bridge the pain and lost felt as a witness to the pain of ‘curative rapes’ suffered by many young black lesbians in Zanele’s own community. The first piece is a thumb print thereby establishing her truth and her presence as part of her community. Other photo montages are a ‘mothers cry’, ‘the judge’, and the ‘defendants in the dock’. We are all witnesses and we must make our own judgements on how to respond
Zanele’s work has been exhibited outside South Africa and the continent and this too has implications of meaning in terms of black bodies and bodies which may have been violated being exposed in white colonial spaces. Queer black bodies under the gaze of closeted racism loaded with notions of black sexuality and desire -always we return to Zanele’s question “What do you see when you look at me? ……?????????

Campaign against violence against women highlighted by Zanele in this video

A young man and his goat – A photographic story

From a collection by Cristina Garcia Rodero, Rituales en Haiti Miami Dade College Museum of Art + Design?

Rituales en Haití  Photographs by Cristina García Rodero
Rituales en Haití Photographs by Cristina García Rodero

 

 

 

Haiti: Occasional Musings 21, Environmental cost of construction boom [Photo Essay]

The construction boom in Haiti driven by Diasporan money, UN [MINUSTAH] and government funds is destroying the local environment around the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Hillsides are being cut away and river beds decimated to feed the huge demand for rock and gravel for personal homes, warehouses and post earthquake reconstruction by the government – in short everything but low cost housing.

I took these photos of the river Grise at Fatimah on the edge of Pernier where I live. In 2010 you could cross the river and take one step up to the village which you can see in the distance. Now the river bed has been dug as much as 30ft deep in some places forcing villages to make a steep perilous climb after negotiating the river which at times can be deep and fast flowing [See last photo]. Neither the government nor the companies have bothered to build steps or a platform for local people to access their village.

The mining of the river bed takes place 24/7 and there are four companies operating in this location. They pay a government tax for the privileged of destroying the river. The construction boom has also brought an influx of monster trucks in various states of disrepair plowing the narrow streets and blowing out thick black smoke.

Earlier this year local residents, mainly small family farmers who rely on the river for their irrigation and water for animals, held a series of protests against the mining of the river and the trucks which operate day and night. One person was shot and killed by the police which for the moment ended the protests.

In years to come Haitians will again be blamed for destroying their rivers and hills much in the same way they are blamed for destroying the trees but when you investigate it is not the people but big business and corrupt governments who are to blame.   Writing in 1968,   Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s [born in 1916] “Love Anger Madness: A Haitian Trilogy”, describes how foreigners, forced Haitian peasants to cut down their trees for sale or starve.  We don’t hear this story.    Rather its always poor Haitians cutting trees for firewood whereas thousands of trees were cut by corporate greed and government corruption.  The farmers knew this would destroy their land and tried to protest, but their lives were worth less than the trees!   Then charities arrive with food, clothing and the bible to save those whose land and livelihood were destroyed.

The irony is that whilst the real river beds are being eroded, the construction of roads which usually lasts for a cycle of two or maybe three weeks is making the roads into river beds with deposits of silt and pebbles mixed in with flood water such as the road from Frere to Clericine via Tabarre.

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Farmland at Grise

Grazing goats at Grise

Village access to river
This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

Haiti: Photo journalism or poverty porn

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing and hungry, sick or dead in a photo album on a desk in New York, sold  for $10 a piece?

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing  and desperate and needy, to be pitied or saved.   Take my bible and I will feed you the bread?

To be poor in Haiti: is to be reformatted as ‘troubled’ and to feed the pockets of foreign NGOs and journalists.?

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing and no one of value and dignity and meaning and sacred potential? Accountable for in the story of this country?**

Brad S Workman - Turning World
Brad S Workman – Turning World

 

I was alerted to the website Turning World - @Turning_world – by some friends here in Haiti. The site is run by photo journalist, Brad Workman who has an ongoing photo documentary in Haiti.  I took issue with his language, the project, the fact that there is no acknowledgement let alone giving back to those whose lives he invades under the guise of social documentary.   The books and prints are for sale on the website.  and  previews here.   There  are different ways to tell a story without invading peoples lives and assaulting their dignity – see here and here the photos chosen by the Camp Acra residents on their blog which should be a lesson on what Haitians see for themselves.   Teju Cole’s 7 point tweet analysis of the   “White-Savior Industrial Complex”  is a must read for any white saviors or potential white saviors embarking on a savior mission..

4 – This world exists simply to satisfy the needs – including, importantly, the sentimental needs of white people and Oprah

7- I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an ey on it, for you know it is deadly.

The story be dammed – people are more important.  Enough already!

My email only begins to touch on the whole issue of the  ethics of disaster photo journalism and the white saviour mindset.  Two well known examples of disaster voyeurism are the  one of a  young Haitian girl, Fabienne Cherisma, who was photographed dead having been shot by a policeman after the January, 2010 earthquake.  The accompanying text states that looters then ‘went through her pocket to steal what they could” meanwhile  all 14 photographers stood by her body adjusting their lens for further shots- a kind of double shooting, one causing death and one prolonging death as imagery forever.   Two of the photographers won an award for the series.

A second even more disturbing photo is one of a Sudanese baby dying of hunger whilst a vulture  waited in anticipation of  her death.  The photographer, Kevin Carter, who also won an award, waited 20 minutes before chasing it away.  Journalists in Sudan had been told not to touch famine victims so instead of,  at the very least holding and caressing the child to at least give human comfort or try to get her to the nearest field hospital and treatment she was left alone.

There are  also many questions around  the unequal power relations between photographer and their subjects, objects. Photos rarely come with context beyond what was in the photographers lens at that moment and their decision to click.  We the observer are left with the photograph and our imagination to interpret what we see and if this is to influence thousands of white saviours to invade Haiti then I see that as problematic.  A question that constantly returns is why is it that so many white Americans, the majority who have no contact with Black people in their own country,  feel the need to spend their life saving the people of a Black nation?

In the case of Workman, the idea of photo journalism as non-interventionist is serialised across the global south under a guise of non-partisanship,  shooting people in distress and  ‘enmeshed in political or social change’ and for his own material gain as well as satisfying   ‘emotional needs’ and white privilege.  It’s certainly not driven by notions of solidarity and struggle for justice but rather flowing from sentimentality and who knows what other emotions are carried behind the choice to avoid the words ‘slavery’ and describe structures of violence as ‘troubles’!

 

Mr Workman

I am writing in response to your description [Turningworld.org] of your photo journalist project in Haiti where I note  you have visited 20 times.   Specifically I wish to respond to the your presentation and thereby engagement with Haiti based on the language used in the description which I find highly disturbing.

Firstly without text and context photos do not tell the story that needs to be told. So even before your photos are presented, the text you write is a shadow of the reality behind the story – So how will the truth be told?

You use the words ‘human bondage’ and Haiti’s resistance to this.  Why not simply be clear and upfront by using the word slavery and writing that Haiti has a history of revolution beginning with the only slave revolution which led to the first black independent nation?  Instead you imply that this ‘human bondage’ is not only continuing but you erase the very resistance you attempt to speak of.    Presumably after 20 visits you have an in-depth knowledge of Haiti’s history, culture and politics?   Incidentally are you aware that after Haiti’s independence many enslaved people who escaped managed to travel to Haiti to live as free men and women?  Are you aware that Haitians including the revolutionaries fought on the side of the Americans against the British. Are you aware that Haiti’s debt is a direct result of being forced to pay reparations to France for ending slavery and then being punished for demanding the return of these monies which have contributed to the impoverishment of the Haitian economy?

You write that ‘Haiti is a deeply troubled country’ and go on to speak of poverty as if poverty happens outside of the socioeconomic and political regional and global landscape. How is Haiti troubled in ways that other countries are, by implication not troubled?  This kind of Eurocentric exceptionlaism is counter productive as first of all it ignores the underlying systemic structures of capitalism which perpetuate poverty from Guatemala to India to Nigeria to Haiti to South Africa.   Secondly it singles out Haiti as being somehow different to other sites of poverty in for example the above countries which are at the very least as poor!  One just has to know and understand the racism  that underpins the US’s  relationship with Haiti, something I note completely ignore by those who come to ‘publicize and save’ Haiti from all manner of ‘misery’ to question a simplistic statement on poverty in Haiti.

You talk of hunger, child labor, street children, environmental degradation, limited health care, cholera as  ‘troubles’ ..  These are not TROUBLES, they are acts of violence and the direct effects of colonialism, elitism, occupation, capitalism and rampant disaster capitalism and what Paul Farmer calls structural violence for which western nations, the US, France etc are the driving force.    Attempting to de politicize Haiti in view of presenting a non-partisan perspective just doesn’t work because it erases the  proud history of this country, it erases the destructiveness of US and French imperialism, it erases the truth behind the poverty, the street kids and the non existence healthcare and the fact this present government is systematically disposing of the popular masses to the extremities of the city and the country.

You speak of MINUSTAH but only in half truths i.e. you fail to explain why they are in Haiti or the violence they have committed  in poor neighborhoods plus their responsibility of cholera.  You fail to mention the militarization in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake which added to the trauma of people’s lives.

I have viewed the first stage photos and I am deeply concerned at showing photos of wounded, hungry, sick vulnerable people.  This is a objectifying and insulting and pure pornography of poverty.    So the world will see these photos and the false narrative that Haiti is a poor diseased violent country is perpetuated.  Yes this I know to be the narrative.  It is one told to me regularly whenever I visit the US and mention Haiti, the one the media loves to describe as ‘the poorest country in the western hemisphere’  as if that is the sum of 10 million people and 300 years of history! .How on earth does this help Haiti?  And why do you feel you need to publicize the struggle rather than support or come in solidarity.   Whats the response OMG,  how awful these poor people are suffering, lets make way for more of the  faith based missionary and the NGO industrial complexes to save Haiti.

How about giving Haitians cameras and letting them take their own photos; how about providing equipment for Haitian photographers to train youth and kids so they can document their own lives as they see fit instead of a self-centered careerism on the backs of the poor people!

You mention ‘promotional’ photos on your web page without giving some proper explanation on the monetary value of these and what you intend to do with monied raised from this and the rest of your work.  I see no where  you explain how you will give back to the communities and people who will be come subjects [objects] of your work?

His reply which I  will leave for readers to interpret…

Dear Sokari Ekine:

Thank you for taking time to write such a thoughtful e-mail! I hope to
have additional contact with you as I work to complete (and possibly
expand) the “Embracing Haiti” project.

For now, I must go but will remain

Sincerely Yours,
Bradley S. Workman

 

 

** From from DMKW and from June Jordan

A Night of Fairytales’: An Audience With Diriye Osman

Diriye Osman – Fairytales for Lost Children

‘A Night of Fairytales’: An Audience With Diriye Osman – If you are in or around London you need to attend this event at the Poetry Cafe…..

Diriye Osman is a Somali-born, British short story writer whose debut collection of stories ‘Fairytales For Lost Children’ has already garnered praise from the iconic musician, Meshell Ndegeocello, feminist graphic novel genius, Alison Bechdel, African literary lion, Nuruddin Farah, and editor extraordinaire, Ellah Allfrey, who noted in The Telegraph that ‘My excitement over Osman and his writing comes, in part, out of delight at the impossibility of categorisation’.

In an intimate evening of storytelling, Osman will be performing dramatic snippets from ‘Fairytales For Lost Children’ interspersed with anecdotes in his infectious, trademark style. This event is brought to you by the groundbreaking LitCrawl series, which took root in San Francisco, and is now rocking it London-stylee!

WHAT: A Night of Fairytales: An Audience With Diriye Osman.

WHERE: Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, London WC2H.

WHEN: Saturday 7th September 2013. 6 – 6.30pm.

Mo(u)rning in progress

From Inkanyiso a documentary of Mo(u)rning by Zanele Muholi

2013 July 16:  Mo(u)rning in progress

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i panty_8391

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© Zanele Muholi
2013

Where: Thokoza township, Johannesburg
What: Three (3) days after Duduzile Zozo’s burial
When: 16/07/2013
How many: 24 participants excluding taxi drivers.
Who: Mostly black lesbians and gays…
Camera used:  Canon 6D with zoom lens EF-S 85 mm lens  1:1.8

 

Butch & Menstruation is Art

From inkanyiso  photo documentary on a radical response to violence against Black lesbians by Zanele Muholi

As we continue to live and survive in troubled times as black lesbians in South Africa and within the continent, where rampant hate crimes and brutal killings of same gender loving women is rife. This ongoing project is an activist/artist’s radical response to that violence.

The passage in which we bleed
The passage where we are/ were born
The passage through which we become (wo)men?
The erotic passage meant to be aroused, is raped
The passage we love is hated and called names
The sacred passage is ever persecuted

I continue to bleed each time I read about rampant ‘curative rapes’ in my ‘democratic’ South Africa.
I bleed every time queer bodies are violated and refused citizenship due gender expression and sexual orientation within the African continent.
I constantly bleed when I hear about brutal murders of black lesbians in our townships and
surrounding areas.
I’m scarred and scared as I don’t know whose body will be next to be buried.
I bleed because our human rights are ripped.
I cry and bleed as mothers, lovers, friends, relatives lose their beloved ones,
let alone the children that become orphans because of trans/queerphobic violence.
We bleed, our life cycles invaded, we bleed against the will of our bodies and beings.

Each patterned piece in this series represents a ‘curative rape’ survivor or a victim of hate crime,
the physical and spiritual blood that is shed from our bodies.

 

2013 June 27:   Menstruation is Art

10h10 am

period 1 @ 06h00 DSCN5067

@18h00

period @ 12h46 DSCN5041

period 4 @ 14h21 DSCN5046

@14h21

period 4 @ 14h57 DSCN5049

@14h57

period 6 @ 14h59 DSCN5052

@14h59

period 7 @ 4h25 pm DSCN5054

@16h25

period 8 @ 11h59 DSCN5057

@11h59

period 9 @ DSCN5060

@15h49

period 11 @ 4h30 DSCN5062

@16h30

period 12 @ 4h32 pm DSCN5068

@16h32

period 13 @ 4h36 pm DSCN5080

@16h36

period 14 @ 4h37 DSCN5083

@16h47

period 14 @ 4h42 DSCN5098

@16h41

period 14 DSCN5088

@ 17h01

period 16 @ 5h24 DSCN5027

@ 17h54

Date:  3rd Feb. 2013
Location: Michel Bizot, Paris. FRANCE
Camera used: Nikon. COOLPIX S100
Exposure time: 1/25
Medium: Menstrual blood on A4 paper and serviette
Titled:  Each photo is time titled when the photo was captured.

These photos of my menstruation were in Feb. 2013 when I was in Paris.
It was a very cold day, snowing outside and I woke up bleeding with bad period pains. I decided to remain indoors for the whole day and visualized my menstruation.
Like I did before when I started photographing my menstrual blood.
I thought to myself how can I explain this to someone who might have different notions about being “butch” bleeding and suffering from menstrual pains. I turned the pain into a project. Later archived the pain.

Always torn (2005) by Zanele Muholi

Always torn (2005)
by Zanele Muholi

Ok. On a good day I use Always with wings.
Sometimes I use white serviette to produce better menstrual paintings with.
I go for 5 days straight with heavy flow on day 4.
I started my menstruation when I was eleven (11), which means that I’d have graduated with 4 degrees if one was praised for bleeding.
I’ve been bleeding and suffering from menstrual pains for more than 25 years. I left out some years because I just block it out of my head.

a friend said to me, "Phola ndod' uzoqina" English translation - Just Be Strong man. (2005)

a friend said to me, “Phola ndod’ uzoqina”
English translation – Just Be Strong man.
(2005)

In 1994 a gynecologist prescribed NovaSure contraceptive pills to stabilize the pains and also to help with my hormonal imbalance. Later on they got better and then I stopped taking them.
Early this year a butch friend recommended Mybulin coz she use it. It worked for 2 months and now it does not anymore.

This is project is not about that… but what it became

Read previous and see motifs exhibited at Blank projects in 2011 titled Isilumo Siyaluma (2006 – 2011)

Ummeli, 2011. Digital print on cotton rag of a digital collage of Menstrual blood stains.

Ummeli, 2011. Digital print on cotton rag of a digital collage of Menstrual blood stains.

What I said later… At the height of hate crimes and queercide in South Africa.

 

Click here to read statement

Another Soul Lost

 

art performance — Decomposing Bitterness by Mpumi Rakabe

I received your news, but

I did not cry!
Am coming

But not today

When we see you, I won’t cry

I’ll remember you like your mothers footsteps

Home is far

Heaven is closer

Rejoice for my sake, peaceful my heart

To convey

To last

To write waste, my eyes look at your bitterly basic elements of instruments

When I underline the long raod ahead of us

We born same date

You live

I suffer

Enjoy your fruitful everlasting

Peaceful life


by Nompumelelo (Dikela; NoNi; Ntswayibane) Mamqwathi
(c) 2013

_________________
About the author

My Name is Nompumelelo (Dikela; NoNi; Ntswayibane) Mamqwathi.

I formed Rakabe Founder of Black Soul of Art Creations and Curator of Women’s Journey Annual Exhibition.
The exhibition is about women and their art, embracing womanhood in art. The intention for the initiative is to document the art movements of today’s contemporary modern styles and techniques. Our main focus group is female — lesbian artists.

The previous exhibition spoke to contemporary academic history of women artists in South Africa, and promoted a learning curve, which hopefully led to new female master artists, and new value and admiration for art by women.
Brief about my life, I never knew my parents and I have one brother (Tshepiso) and one adopted sister (Christie van Zyl), but am stronger than normality. Look out for my biography /documentary-Life Without A Fullstop.

Currently, I am studying visual art- Art History at UNISA, taking photography as a healing process, video art and writing.  I’m documenting artists and their movements. To expose and also showcase the challenges, successes faced by artists with the role of ‘the arts’ in our society today.
My research is about Women who are killed and their bodies are being decomposed bitterly (Human Traffic). I use my body as a subject matter. In the images attached I dig my own grave, and died for all women that are killed-to be killed. The project is ongoing series/ work in progress. There will be an additional short video to back up the project.

In a resisting piece I wrote about Decomposing Bitterness

Hope my work conveys the bitterness within sharp tools men use to kill, hurt, destroy and rip souls!

Am A Slave of Artsholes

 

 

 

 

WORDS BIG AND SMALL

 

rings and roses vanish, fleet and pass without leaving a trace.

but words are forever so, speak for this love lives on words

and words alone can ink themselves deep into my heart and

not rings, not roses, not a new house. no. no.

speak and i will live on your words, i will drink every word and i will

follow the breath of your lips to where it will land a new loving word.

no rings, no roses – they vanish, they fleet, they pass;

speak! and i will swallow your words deep into me

and make of them my core and essence. yes. yes.

keep speaking and giving me words big and small.

my darling artist, keep talking, writing and

painting your words and in all of them i will delight.

but like my Lord i will ask again that if you build me a mansion then you

should build it in the path of a flood.

Mambu Badu – A New Way of Seeing [Photography]

Mambu Badu is a photography collective founded in 2010 by Allison McDaniel, Kameelah Rasheed, and Danielle Scruggs.

The collective’s mission is to find, expose, and nurture emerging self-identified woman photographers of African descent.

“Mambu Badu” is an adaptation of the Swahili phrase “Mambo Bado” which is loosely translated as “the best has yet to come.” At this moment, we dwell in an exciting space of possibility where we can grow as artists. We invite other Black/African American female photographers to join us in this journey. We are approaching our art and this collective with a with a humble heart, a curious nature, and a persevering spirit.”

I am privilleged to have my work “Grand Cimetière, Port-au-Prince, Haiti” [a selection here] from October/November 2011 included in the Winter issue.  I am just beginning on my photography journey .  I have finally managed to move beyond structures to people and would love Black Lookers feedback.

 

To received a copy of this edition please visit the Mambu Badu website.

Mambu Badu Issue 2 Volume I – Winter 2013

Victor Ehikhamenor – Ways of Seeing

Victor Ehikhamenor

 

Victor Ehikhamenor defies stereotype — a master at multi-tasking and multi-thinking and multi-creativity. He has produced, to critical acclaim, short stories, photographs, illustrations and paintings.  He “needs no introduction” in the Nigerian art scene, as YNaija pointed out. In this conversation with novelist Emmanuel Iduma, Ehikhamenor highlights what probably stands him out and admits that his mind is always “pendulumic” and “constantly swinging.” The newest offering from Victor Ehikhamenor is his new book, Excuse Me! which is released by Parresia Publishers on 29 November. He states his expectation for the book, and what he intended to achieve. Ultimately this short conversation is a peek into the mind of one of Nigeria’s finest contemporary artists.

I know Milan Kundera was not referring to non-fiction when he said “the art of the novel came into the world as an echo of God’s laughter,” but do you share his sentiments? How much of laughter reverberates through life?

 So, you are starting this interview with a communist exile’s quote — this should be interesting. To a large extent I can reason with Kundera and his religio-philosophic approach to the birth of the novel. And in that case I would like to say the art of non-fiction writing came into the world when humans took over the laughter from God. You know laughter can be contagious. To me reality makes us laugh quicker than fiction because laughter is an integral part of human nature.  Even at funerals, if you observe closely enough, you would see some people laughing in the midst of that grim sombreness.

 What kind of success would be success enough for you? Especially for this new book?

The word success is relatively individualistic. What I probably consider a success might mean a different thing to another person. However to find a suitable answer for your question — that the book is getting published at all is a success already, because the first Nigerian publisher I offered the manuscript sent me a very nice and wonderful rejection email. Another success for the book would be if it inspires new writers to write creative non-fiction and engage issues that beleaguer Nigeria.

 When I heard someone say Nigerians are suffering from visual illiteracy I wondered what that could mean. Could it mean that there are few of us who try to record what we see, our ‘mundane’ experiences?

To be honest with you, this is new to me, I haven’t heard that before. Whoever said that to you is the one probably suffering from that malady, because there is a lot of output from Nigerians in various ways — especially in the art industry. When next you encounter such a person, tell that individual: “shine your eye!”

Don’t you think Excuse Me! as a title gives us both the idea of arrogance and politeness, especially when we think of how we often use it in these parts?

‘Excuse me’ is a very versatile phrase — the meaning lies in the swagger and attitude in the tonal inflection of the speaker. However for the purpose of this book, it is the one said when you want draw someone’s attention to a serious matter.

Maybe writing is an attempt at self-interrogation? Does this resonate with what you tried to do with Excuse Me?

 I think it was Pablo Neruda who said “I speak to you and myself.” Excuse Me is not so much a self-interrogation but a careful examination of events and issues about our/my reality.

 The word that comes closest to understanding how you work both as a writer and visual artist is schizophrenia, especially since it is defined in terms of mind splits. Do you make any attempt to distinguish your approach to prose from your approach to visual arts? Is it technique or artistic vision that makes this distinction?

Was God schizophrenic when he started creating plethora of things? Schizophrenia is too strong and bristly a term to use for the process of creativity, although some psychoanalysts have argued otherwise. I think artists and writers are what I would call multi-thinkers and restless doers. Many people think of a creative idea and hinder themselves with “it cannot be done” or “I don’t have time for that”, whereas an artist or writer thinks of the same thing and devices a way to make it happen and visible for others to appreciate or abhor.

But I must admit that my mind is always pendulumic, constantly swinging but not in the sense of mental instability. I have made art and written for quite some time now and I am no longer conscious of the processes that demarcate the two forms. What I know is that sometimes I feel like painting, drawing, carving, photographing and other times I want to write. I tend to gravitate more towards painting/drawing because it is easier and more enjoyable for me than writing. Writing is a difficult form of expression, but I love it like an obstinate lover. The whole process of stringing words like my grandma in her weaving loom is just scintillating.

The message I want to pass across makes the distinction, because that is what dictates the technique and the artistic vision all the way to how it is executed.

 Is there a false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness?

The lines are blurry. We don’t just junk things that make us laugh into the mind’s trash can. When you go to a comedy show and the comedian jokes about a serious situation, you laugh first and then ruminate and sometimes go — “That is so true!” and continue with your laughter.

 And how can we laugh and not forget? I am very curious about knowing your thoughts on this.

Extreme laughter has the same weight as extreme sadness/crying. You cannot afford to forget what made you laugh, even if you do, it is only temporary before something triggers your memory again.

 I found no other way to ask this question, but it has nagged me since we began this conversation. How do you see?

With my eyes first, like every other human being that I know. Now how I process what I see is another thing totally different. I am constantly seeking and composing, deconstructing, formulating, arranging and re-arranging within seconds with my eyes — that is what being a photographer does to your ways of seeing.

Let’s return to God’s laughter. Howard Jacobson says God laughs at the idea that we can think our way out of the unthinkable. In Excuse Me! do you want us to laugh at things we would otherwise be pessimistic about?

The primary purpose is not really for you to laugh but to arrest your attention to something you would probably gloss over. When I was a kid, there was a malaria medication called Nivaquin, which had the nastiest taste ever. Back then the packaging of “tablet” was crude, and you had to either deal with the “bitter pill” or remain sick. Now, you have pills encapsulated in tasteless casings and the bitterness is contained and cannot be tasted. Some pieces in Excuse Me! are bitter pills encapsulated in laughter. So, in the book I want you to laugh and ponder.

 

You say you regarded NEXT as an institution of higher learning. Maybe it was for all of us too, because when it folded up, we all ‘graduated.’ What do you think? What did you (and all of us) graduate from?

I graduated from the school of excellence and hard work. One couldn’t have worked with Dele Olojede and not learn how to smell news and package it;  or Amma Ogan the most elegant and exciting editor with a tongue the sharpness of a Nacet blade; or with Molara Wood who will never let go a feature until it is whistle clean even if you put a gun on her head; or Kadaria Ahmed who was like a war General and a mother Theresa at the same time; or Kayode Ogunbunmi whose patience and gentleness yet fierceness in chasing a story would make a cheetah cover its face with shame; or Dapo Olorunyomi who teaches meekness yet would sink his teeth into a hard untouchable news and won’t let go of it until he unearths the underbelly that stinks to high heavens; or the entire creative unit with some of the craziest, best and tenacious artists I have ever met. I can go on and on naming great names because the place was filled with really awesome Nigerians that believed in the country and what NEXT was all about.

Will you be tempted to work less on a new book now that Excuse Me! is out?

No. I get bored easily. I must keep myself busy. I don’t have a novel out there yet even though my short stories have been published in various journals and magazines. Also I would like to see if what Milan Kundera said about God’s echo of laughter as the origin of the novel is true. So I’m working on that.

Invisible Borders: Emeka Okereke in conversation with Emmanuel Iduma

From Invisible Borders 

A conversation between Emeka Okereke, founder and Artistic Director of Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers’ Organization, and Emmanuel Iduma, Nigerian author and writer. The conversation took place in Libreville, Gabon where Okereke and Iduma are participating in a road trip. The conversation takes into focus the work of the Organization since 2009, when it was founded until now, considering its practice and ideology, and touches on African modernity, public art, borders, history and so forth. 

Emeka Okereke, first from left, and the rest of the 2012 Invisible Borders participants with mud workers at Ekok, Cross River State.

Emmanuel Iduma: This conversation is kind of a conversational anthology of all we’ve talked about in the last 3 weeks, or so, while on this trip and even before. So, the first thing I’d like us to talk about is what you think have changed practically and even ideologically since Invisible Borders was founded in 2009.

Emeka Okereke: A lot has changed. It’s been 4 years, 4 editions. And we’ve come a long way both in terms of organizing the project and the concept of the project, what it entails. For example, we began with the very basic idea of a bunch of artists coming together, getting into a van and travelling by road as opposed to going by air. Since there was no sea so to speak dividing the countries in Africa, why couldn’t we travel by road? And then we named the project Invisible Borders. As time went on we realized that as photographers’ people would always ask us what exactly and how do you intend on making borders invisible? And that’s a question we’ve been trying to answer from 2009 until now.

In answering that question, the project evolved from merely photographers to having writers, art historians, filmmakers. In terms of the concept, we realized that there are different layers —whichever angle you think of it, it’s an interesting project. For the fact that what we are doing is recording our stories, which would become history tomorrow, and also the way we go about it. There’s also that aspect of adventure. But it’s only so because travelling by road today is not something common. It’s also like that because it’s a time when aviation is having a foothold in Africa and we are saying we want to travel by road. You realize it’s not about the means of travelling but what it brings to the project. So, the idea of invisible borders is travelling by road and discovering mile by mile the continent of Africa and also the people.

There’s something about travelling through these places, and even the names of the places we come across that you’ve never heard about in the countries that we know, like Cameroon. you’ve never really heard of Mamfe, Ekok, Ebolowa, Minkok….all these places that became landmarks to the project. I’m not talking about the ones that we passed by that we didn’t even pay attention to, those ones that now came to play a very important role in the project, besides Douala and Yaounde that everyone knows. Even if it’s just for the fact that we had to be in these places or somehow crossed our way in terms of having a brush with it from a distance, it is important, these are the little things. And then, the road trip has taken different layers.

Iduma: That’s why I talked about it first of all as the ideological changes that has happened since 2009 and then secondly the practical changes. The practical changes, you have non-Nigerians now, you’re now travelling with your own van, you’re not just going within ECOWAS again, you’re going outside the regions that you’re familiar with. And then ideologically, one of the things we’ve always talked about has been the slippery nature of the concept invisible borders. Definitely, if there’s any change that has happened ideologically, it’s even the permeability, the fragility of the concept. And so those are the kind of things that I know you’d be thinking of in relation to the changes that has occurred since 2009. I don’t know if I’m right?

Okereke: Sure. Of course.

Iduma: Now, you know, when you were talking about these landmarks that we came across, literarily tumbling upon them, (for instance stopping in Minkok we met this mess of a market) I easily remembered what Aly Diallo says that Africa’s specialty is in dealing with the everyday. Although he was sarcastic in his expression, basically saying that innovation is not considered as a tool for development [in Africa], what caught my attention was ‘Africa’s specialty is in dealing with the everyday.’ And it’s quite funny that what we’re trying to do is record everyday reality, everyday nuances and everyday lifestyles of people we come across. Does this resonate with the idea you have about what Invisible Borders is doing?

Okereke: Yes, of course. The best way I put it is that, first of all, we’ve come to realize that the project by visual artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers, is actually a performance in a public space within real time. I began to see the whole project as a performance where our space is that stretch of space from Lagos to Libreville, where we are now. That’s our space, and that’s public space, and the performance is happening every minute we’re travelling, be it travelling at night when it’s raining and everyone is sleeping or dozing off in the van, or being caught in the mud. And it’s happening everyday in people’s everyday reality which is not our everyday reality. Which is not our everyday life because of course we left everything we’re doing back home to embark on this trip.

But it’s so interesting that in every experience we have on the road, we’re actually encouraged not only by our resolve to be together and continue the road trip, but seeing that all these things we’re calling difficulties are actually what is happening in other people’s everyday life. For example, you get to a place that the only food you can eat is the food you don’t know. Several times I’ve told myself that if people who live here are eating this every day, how come I cannot survive, how come I can’t eat this food? When i think about that, [immediately] i jump into the food. Because I know I don’t have any other alternative. I’d be hungry, it will affect what we’re doing and I realize that all I needed was to dismiss that thought that because I don’t know this, it’s going to kill me. But then I dismiss that and I identify with the reality of those around me, because they’re human beings like myself. And there’s something that brings to me personally, because I know that when I go back to where I live, I eat good food, I fly by air from Lagos to Amsterdam and New York or wherever.

But at the same time, being in the mud with some guys who actually dig the mud every single day all their lives doesn’t take anything from me, it actually adds, gives me the experience of seeing things differently. And even led me to think that those people who think they’re in a certain way, they don’t need certain things, they drive a certain car, they sleep in a certain room, on a certain bed, that when it comes to a situation when they can’t have all of that, why is it that they see it as a subtraction other than an addition? Because it really doesn’t take anything from their taste, especially when they know that it’s only a parenthesis…

Iduma: ….I mean they’d return to their lives as it was….

Okereke: ….exactly, it doesn’t take away anything. I mean, it gives you the opportunity to feel. for me, the only way I can actually think that way is that I’m seeing Henry who was digging the mud, I see that he’s stepping into the mud and he’s not dead and he is a human being like me. And there’s a sort of modesty to that, the fact that we’re fiction in this people’s reality. For me, this is what pushes us forward. Of course, yes, we are documenting everyday reality of people through ourselves, through putting ourselves in the situation.

Iduma: What comes to my mind, which is because we started with the idea of how we’re being enmeshed in the everyday reality of others, is the idea of making historical statements. I’m asking myself how we can encounter everyday as it is and yet still make historical statements. Because you know that one of the challenges  I shared this with you last year — is that I want to go beyond reporting what we see, just the things we see — and we spend little time in places. So, how do we encounter everyday and yet confer on it some meaningful historical perspective?

Okereke: The way I see this business of development and progress in Africa is that we must always be true to our own reality and not see it as a shortcoming but strength in itself. And in the 21st Century when we talk about not seeking validation for what you do, it means that you’re beginning to scrutinize those things that are your reality and extract from it those things that could be your strength. One thing about development in Africa is that it’s a pity that we already have a (role) model, in the name of the west. People say there’s nothing an African wants to do that has not been done, but that’s because you are looking at it from that standpoint and we have all these analysts trying to analyze Africa from where they’re sitting in Europe or in the West, and that’s where they make a mistake.

That’s why we’re doing this, because we want to analyze Africa but not from that angle. We don’t want to call negative everything we have as strength. Now, when Aly Diallo says we’re hinged on the everyday and not hinged on the future, I consider that if you look at it from that angle then it feels like it’s a weakness but the question now is that how can we be on everyday, be spontenous, improvise and yet have a structure and a way of preserving this so that it becomes our history tomorrow.

And this is our struggle in Invisible Borders. As you know, we’re always thinking of how to structure this spontaneity, this energy flying here and there, our free-styling, what I call a vernacular art production. At the backend, how do we present it to people so that it doesn’t look like we’re not structured? So we’ve been having categories in the blog, and then we’re asking the artists to go and work, do their thing. At the backend we’re trying to structure it for them in a way that it would be preserved, so that tomorrow, people would analyze this work would have a pattern for which it was analyzed even though it was more or less spontaneous. So this is what I think — that we should always look for a way to structure things but should not in any way try to compromise the fact that we’re masters of improvisation.

Iduma: This brings to mind how fact meets reflection. I’m kind of a spontaneous introspective person, I think on the go, I imagine on the go, which is what this journey is about. On one hand, you can focus on the stress of travelling. Travelling can be an act in itself, because definitely you’re travelling. This is just like an artistic ideal — why would artists come together in a bus and say they’re travelling by road across africa. It might seem not to have a tangible worth in its own self. That’s how people might look at it — what are these guys doing exactly? For us, it’s more than that. It’s that we’re encountering all these spaces that exist as they are and as we’re entering into their spaces we’re trying to record what we see and yet think about what we’re recording…

Okereke: ….and it is more so because of the idea of getting out of our own spaces and doing this on the road. You have to realize that it is an art residency in movement, it is an art school in movement, because you have young photographers who are also here to learn and you see how they develop. You also realize that one of our strong concepts is that if you don’t go you don’t know. We never report on something we didn’t experience. But then how can you report on something and say what it represents, except you use it as a metaphor? So the reflection aspect of our project is that which places everything into symbols and metaphors to represent something much broader. And to some extent global. So we have this experience and we think about it back and forth as it relates to the history that we know about Africa, and where’s its taking us to in the future. It’s not just enough to come to Calabar, you go to the slave museum, and you say we’re in the slave history museum. no. you begin to reflect about that. What is the position of this in history, and what is the position of this in the future of Africa? Knowing that we’re actually at a strategic point — everyone now working in Invisible Borders and everyone living today is in a strategic point in the history of the world and for Africa it is more so because we are the forerunners of the 21st century. We are the ones who’ll decide what Africa would be at the end of the century. It is important that we make reference to history but much more think about where this is going to for us, for the future. And that is where that reflection comes in. But for the fact that we always want to be true, to what we say, facts must always be there.

Iduma: Yeah, because necessarily, although people might disagree, fact is incidental to truth, fact as in what is seen, what is evident. What you come across on the surface level can be equated with some form of truthfulness.

The other thing I wanted us to touch on is the fact of having different forms being represented on this platform. You have predominantly photographers, visual artists and then you have the literary form being represented. What kind of richness, broad-mindedness, open-endedness do you think this brings to the project? Is there a form of intersection between all these forms coming together to work out the definition of what Africa is today and what all these places we’re travelling through actually means?

Okereke: The guiding element in bringing these disciplines together to make up invisible borders is the ability of each of this medium to become a document. To record. And let’s not make any mistake about it, what we’re doing in Invisible Borders today, we want it to be a reference point in the next 10-20 years, it’s going to be an archive, a deep reflection by a group of artists, by this organization on what this space called Africa really means. So, photography, writing, filmmaking tends towards documentation in a way, and this is also preserving history. In that sense I think they all come together to reinforce and become the strength of what we do. Now, the aspect of creativity is something else. Even creativity is being recorded, as well, because of the different mediums. It’s already good that these are artists and not mere reporters and that’s like a plus. But the first thing is that we are documenting, that is the basic. We are documenting and anybody who wants to understand the role his work will play in invisible borders will have to begin there.

Iduma: One of the startling things for me, being in Invisible Borders, is that when you have all these forms and disciplines intersecting in one residency space, you automatically have a combined effort in honestly representing human experience. Which is why, for instance, I’m also interested beyond just writing fiction in also beginning to look at plays for the stage. Because all that it boils down to is not really about the medium, which is the mistake that we must not make even if you term yourself a photographer or a filmmaker. It’s just the same thing Shahidul Alam says that it’s really not about being a photographer and having a camera in your hands but first of all, what do you see? First of all what aches you as a person, as an artist, and if what aches is trying to be true to a modern African experience, to contemporary life in Africa, then it transcends automatically the borders of being a photographer, being a filmmaker, being a writer, being a whatnot….

Okereke… it automatically transcends that. And that is why in the future we’re going to have even weird mixtures of participants. It might even go beyond artists and include politicians. Because it’s never really about the medium. Okay, let’s keep it within where it is, artists doing this. You realize that the medium is only a way to capture different layers of this story. Like you once mentioned in the blog, the places we’re visiting, we might not get to visit them again. And photography can only [record] to an extent. We have 10 people travelling every year, why must they all be photographers? We have 10 people travelling, why must they all be Nigerians? you see? We have all these means of doing this. It will be a pity to limit this to photographers, writers. We chose the three mediums because this is also the form we’re giving to the outcome of what we’re doing. You have the writers and filmmakers and also the Art Historian trying to put what we’re doing within a historical context. When you say historical it doesn’t necessarily refer to the past but also to the future…

Iduma: I’m keenly interested in reimagining history. Every time I say to myself I want to be engaged in that activity of reimagination, I feel it’s a ‘back to the future’ thing. It’s like you have that element of the past but you also have the element of the future, like sci-fi in some sense. It’s like that surreal engagement with what would be considered as what was. In future, what we’re doing would be considered as what was. But now we can actually go to the future now and imagine that people are considering this as what was. So you go to the future to see what will be considered as the past….

Okereke: …definitely.

Iduma: …it’s just like a travel in time. Which is one of the outlooks I think we should be having. Travelling through time…

Okereke: …exactly.

Iduma: Let’s talk about the idea of vernacular art as it relates to performance in public space. Something I know that has been your concern is how we can deconstruct the complications of the art world. The complications of how art should be made, what is considered high art. And yet one of the things we’ve been trying to do is trying to bring art into the public space, into the everyday reality. It’s just like when you talk of having a show on 3rd Mainland Bridge, in Lagos, and they see what would ordinarily be hidden in the gallery or exhibition space. So, why do you strongly believe that Invisible Borders is redefining vernacular art or redefining performance in public space?

Okereke: When we talk about public space, you talk about the works of the likes of JR, the French photographer who does monumental installation of photographs in huge spaces. We also talk about people who make and show works in public space, like on 3rd Mainland Bridge as you said. You talk about sculptors who try to make work in public space. And this is, for me, what we generally understand as bringing art to the public space.

But I have begun to look at it differently. An extension of that is the fact that the physical public space is a function of the intricate networks and realities of people who make up that space. And that itself is a function of the immateriality of their everyday existence. Immaterialities are those little things you can’t see but that makes up people’s personalities and temperaments. It could be linked to their culture or not. You see the gradation, then — it is from the immateriality and it goes to become material, which is the personalities and intricate networks of a group of people and how they speak and how they move and then it comes to become the physical public space. If as an artist, you’re actually talking about performance, then it must begin from the essence, which is the materiality of people’s existence. You must actually get yourself intertwined with that intricate network….

Iduma: …and it must not be impositional…

Okereke: ….no it mustn’t be impositional, it must be collaborative in nature, because that physical space is only the end product. So putting up a finished photograph in a physical space and saying you have public space is like arriving at an end product without beginning. In this sense I relate to people like Banksi, a graffitti artist, who does his work everywhere, and there is no structure the way he goes about it. He’s always trying to work it into corners and alleys. I feel he’s like a graffitti artist who is doing a performance. Because there’s a way he uses the space that makes you think it’s happening in everyday reality, as opposed to JR putting his big photo up. It kind of places a frame and becomes an exhibition. No matter how you think it works so well in public space, it’s sensational, and at the same time it takes away that feeling that it is working gradually into people’s everyday life. And that for me is where Invisible Borders comes in.

The fact that we’re doing this and our work is to meet people every day, getting to work with the reality that we find on ground and not necessarily having a well-planned itinerary. The fact that we’re not just looking at putting out the physical work there, but we are actually in the everyday reality of people. As long as our audience is not the white-cube kind of audience. The exhibition is taking place while we’re doing the work, while we’re meeting people, while we’re sharing it online, in real time. There’s also taking into consideration the process. The process of making a work and the final outcome is not different. And then, when you talk about vernacular art making, you also look at the fact that we’re not necessarily thinking of how neat the work comes out, how perfect.

If I would touch on borders a little bit. ‘Borders’ is a vague thing. It’s a line that forms immediately a group of people decide to transcend a particular state of being. The difficulties we’re experiencing is only because we’ve taken into our hands to transcend, and all the forces coming in is what we see as borders. And that has come to make me believe that there will always be borders. When we began, we began with the naive idea that we have to eradicate borders. Think about it, you realize that in trying to eradicate borders you’re making borders, And you’re talking about eradicating borders because you’ve seen it as something that is there physically. Immediately you try to do something about something, you create a border. And then you might also be tempted so see borders as something that is limiting. At the first level, borders divide us, but when you look at it, it could also be what unites us. Borders make people come together and create a third dimension, it contemplates the idea of coexistence.

There would always be borders but our work is how to work with it, through it, and transcend it. We’re talking of how you’re using the borders, not if there’s going to be borders. It will not be a hindrance, but it will propel us forward. That is to say, the stories of success we have, and the stories of difficulties are all part of making the work. The more difficult it becomes, the more it gives us the sense of wanting to keep doing this. I don’t think it’s about arriving at a certain conclusion, but just the mere resilience of saying, “I don’t want to get stuck in my own way of doing things.” It’s about moving, constantly transcending the status quo, the state of being.

The 2012 Route:   Lagos (Nigeria) — Lubumbashi (Congo)

The Group:

 

Gone @ 20 – the lucky ones are not yet born!

A review of Zanele Muholi’s exhibition MO(U)RNING by Zethu Matebeni, 2012

MuhioliCS

Famous people die in their twenties. Many would remember the American Rhythm &Blues (R&B) singer, xxxxxx, who died in a plane crash. She was 22 at the time of her death. Controversial supermodel Gia died at the age of 26. Some still don’t believe that Tupac Shakur is dead. He was 25 when they gunned him down. The legendary Amy Winehouse died at 27. It is believed that she wanted to join the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and other musicians who died at the same age. They are now immortal members of the infamous “Club 27”.

We remember all these people because they were famous. No one remembers Nokuthula Radebe (20), Ntsiki Tyatyeka (21), Thokozane Qwabe (23), Khanyiswa Hani (25), Tshuku Ncobo (26), Mpho Setshedi (27), Sanna Supa (28), Hendrietta Thapelo Morifi (29), and many others like them. They did not make it to “Club 27”. They were not musicians, artists or entertainers. However, they joined a special club, notorious in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (lgbti) community of South Africa. They are among the endless list of lives lost too soon, and too violently. Murdered for who they are and their sexual/gender expression — they lie forgotten.

South Africa is layered with contradictions and complexities. On the one hand, the lgbti community forms part of the progressive movement and the rainbow nation that is South Africa today. On the other, individual rights to sexual expression, sexual and gender identity are often challenged in the only African state that is praised for protecting diversities. However, there are limits to diversity, at least in the South African context. Those who transgress the boundaries of diversity often get punished in the most gruesome ways. In particular, the existence of minority groups (including women and female persons) is often under threat. Among South African black lesbian women specifically, one is considered lucky to escape rape, or even murder before their 30th birthday.

We live within a state of perpetual loss. It is a painful sense of losing youthfulness, hope and a future. The feeling almost makes you numb to the experience of life. Life’s ending becomes an everyday occurrence, synonymous to breathing. It blinds you of possibilities and opportunities. You walk, sleep, drive, and mostly gamble with its imminence. It follows you. You calculate the chances of it approaching you violently. You respond by minimising the risks. Your movements change to dodge its strike. Then it hits you, unexpectedly. In most times you are all alone. No one is there to hear your cries. Even when someone is there, it will soon befall him or her. She or he cannot respond because of fear of it happening to them.

Such was the fate of Zoliswa Nkonyane. She was barely 20 when her peers murdered her in a township in Cape Town. A group of boys and some girls stoned her to death. Her father stood by watching from a distance, not knowing that it was his daughter being murdered. He feared that the same group would come after him if he intervened. Among the group stoning her, no one cried ‘stop’. Even the lone passerby who tried to end the violence, knew it would turn to him. The nine men arrested for her murder were from her township. They killed her because she was a tomboy and a lesbian. They said she “wanted to get raped”.

The murderer of Phumeza Nkolonzi followed her into her family home. Inside the bedroom, with her aged grandmother and five-year-old cousin watching, he shot her three times. The first shot, as the grandmother stated was “to silence” them. He was informing them of his intention. The second shot went directly to Phumeza. She asked him “what have I done to you?” The murderer responded with a third shot that sent her to the ground. The neighbours heard her grandmother’s screams, but were too scared to go out of their homes and help. Known to everyone in the community as a humble and respectful tomboy whose best friends were all boys her age, Phumeza died two years after her 20th birthday.

Who would remember Zoliswa, Phumeza and the many like them? They were not famous. Their names would not ring a bell worldwide. No one would ever sing their songs. No one would hold tight to their sold out albums. No one would name their children after them. No one would want to join their club. Yet, many do. The list keeps growing. And some of us do remember them. We want to remember them. Their memories cannot be forgotten because we know, like them, we could be next. For the choices we make, the life we want to live, and the love we want to express — we all do not escape the violence that claims to make us “right”.

EPOC activists, Bontle and Ntsupe at the crime scene where Noxolo Nogwaza’s body was discovered in 2011

 

It is in this state of mind that I, and many others, entered an exhibition space about Mo(u)rning. The title spoke directly to many lgbt persons who are currently in mourning. We mourn the loss of many young lives over the years, violently murdered or raped by members of our South African society. Between June 2nd and July 15th 2012 alone, we have buried and mourned at least seven members of our community, brutally murdered by perpetrators who still roam our streets. Many lgbt activists have gone from town to town, funeral to funeral and province to province, attending to the burials of Neil Daniels, Vuyisa Dayisi, Sasha Lee, Thapelo Makhutle, Hendrietta Thapelo Morifi, Phumeza Nkolonzi and Sanna Supa.

We walked around carrying this loss, the pain and fear that if not us, then one of us would be next. Many of us shared this feeling as we walked into the Michael Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town. We had all come to support and celebrate the work of Zanele Muholi, a fearless visual activist whose work is dedicated to documenting the realities of the lgbti community in South Africa and beyond. With her, we were mo(u)rning the loss of her visual archive, stolen during a burglary at her house. It was in actual fact also our own loss — half a decade of documenting lgbti lives across Africa. We also came to mourn the lives of those we knew, those like us.

As we walked in to the white walls of the gallery, we were welcomed on the right hand by a beaded work of a newspaper headline. It was a heavy caption that told of the rampant violence and hate crimes towards lgbti persons. Muholi called it “queercide”. On its left, a timeline depicting all the lgbti persons murdered in South Africa brought a knot to one’s stomach. In front of it were two other beaded headlines of a lesbian raped and murdered, images from a crime scene, a memorial site and a gravesite. These sent me back to July 2007 and April 2008 at the funerals of couple Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa, and soccer player Eudy Simelane respectively. These few images were the only ones left in Muholi’s depleted archive.

Walking to the right, a caption ‘mo(u)rning room’: please take off your shoes’ invitee the visitor in. I hesitated going into this room. A white thick curtain served as an entrance. The slightly deemed room made my heart sink. The mattress on the floor with a few blankets rolled on it seemed too familiar. Bereavement flowers, waiting chairs, a candle, grass wall hangings, a bucket with a face cloth, and a tv screen completed the installation. The latter played a video from Thapelo Makhutle’s recent funeral as well Ndibonile, a transcribed funeral of Noxolo Nogwaza. Both Thapelo and Noxolo died at age 24.

The room was a perfect portrayal of the way in which mourning resides within the spaces of the everyday. It is intimately connected with where one sleeps, eats, bathes or even entertains. It cannot be separated from these daily rituals. Looking at this room I was reminded of Phumeza’s grandmother curled up on the mattress. The walls were dark, and the signs of Phumeza’s bullet-sprayed blood splattered all over played like wild fire sparks in my head. A heart bit skipped as I imagined her grandmother continuing to inhabit this space every day. Outside the room a beaded program from a funeral service hung on the wall. Too emotionally drained to proceed with the exhibition, a table selling wine for R14 at the far end of the gallery looked more appealing.
A big white wall in the next room covered with hand-written texts, mostly extracts of testimonies of violation against black lesbians captured everyone’s attention. They were taken from various publications and interviews with lgbti community members who had survived different forms of violation and prejudice. On a small bench at the left end of the wall, two people listened to the audio recordings of some of the testimonies. Shaking their heads vigorously, they soaked in the painful stories. Parts of what they heard were female voices who were sharing their experiences. One woman told of how “They raped me, grabbed me, started hitting me…They raped me — three or two or all of them, I don’t remember. The rape changed my life. I got pregnant and my mother is raising my child”.

Facing this wall were black and white beautiful portraits of black lesbian and trans persons captured over six years. Many of these images were part of Muholi Faces and Phases as well as Being series. The people in the photographs faced the wall with all these testimonies, some claiming them, and others implicated by these texts. The women and trans men pose proud and elegantly in front of Zanele’s lens, owning their space and right to being. Some portraits were missing. This told of those who have since died. The space in between the photographs hurt. It reminded me of Buhle Msibi, Busi Sigasa, Eudy Simelane, Sizakele Sigasa, and many others we have forgotten.

Makhosazana Xaba’s poem, on the left wall, brought comfort. Her poem, For Eudy, called upon all, and challenged politicians in particular, to listen and respond to our cry “Stop these crimes of hatred now!” Back then, in 2009 when Xaba published the poem, politicians were quiet. They are still silent. Three years later we protested in front of their offices on July 18, 2012. They still refused to speak. They tiptoed around their comrades, Patekile Holomisa and his traditional cronies, who incite violence towards lgbti groups. Within the confines of parliament, the signs of democracy are under threat. Rather than defending democracy and speaking out against discrimination, prejudice and injustice, politicians chose to distance themselves from those opposing democratic gains.

Across the exhibition space were small photographs of women kissing and in intimate embraces. These images were surprising. The women were happy and even seemed in love. The juxtapositions in this space were jarring. In this one room I felt transported into that complex space where death|life, anger|joy and pain|pleasure co-exist. It was also between these four walls that I could exit (or enter the next space) from any end of the room. The gaps between the walls started to make me feel at ease. The wine also played its part.
Loud giggles emanated from the space behind one wall. I followed the sounds. I glanced over the note on the wall, “this video contains nudity and explicit sexual content”. A group of women stood excited in front of a flat screen tv. They watched two women having sex. The energy in the room was electric. Some couples started touching each other, others kissed, and many were glued to the screen. A mixture of shock, fascination and desire was pasted on their faces. Moans and groans were heard as we identified with what the couple on the screen felt. Those brave enough to last through the whole scene stayed for the evening’s ‘fix’. Others left, unable to contain the emotions the video aroused.

“Ooohh — that was hot!” Exclaimed one woman as she exited the room with her lover by her hand. Everyone came out of this room happy. They were smiling. Some had naughty smiles on their faces. Others tried hard to hide it, but it was there. The space allowed for it to be there. It even permitted a conversation around sexual pleasure. At this point, the feel of the exhibition changed. It was almost as if a burden had been lifted. The dark cloud that marked black female lives and bodies as only diseased, dying and violated receded. Out shone the possibility that beyond this framing a fuller life existed, one with imprints of pleasure and beauty.
Walking around this gallery brought a sense of pride. The beautifully captured images, videos, and beaded works of masculine and feminine females transposed politics of representation. Many black lesbians and transgender men suddenly occupied the space of the desired and the aesthetic. Outside these confines, they remain society’s targets as they are branded for challenging and destabilizing gender norms. On these walls, they were admired. Mo(u)rning offered a powerful space for the lgbti community to re-imagine themselves.
Death and loss are not escapable. But, as Mo(u)rning reminded us, even with these, there is life. And we can all claim our free space to live it. This has been one of the most difficult months of the South African lgbti community. It was in July 2007 when lesbian couple Sizakele and Salome’s brutal murder shocked the nation. We commemorated that loss this month, while also processing the numerous lgbt deaths over the six weeks between June and July 2012.

This exhibition reminded many of the lgbt persons present that we cannot afford to remain silent about the innocent lives takes so brutally. As a group, we have to continue shouting out against the injustices of our time. We must refuse to have a generation wiped out before 30. Mostly, we must refuse to be a community branded with violation. It is at such times and in such spaces that our activism is invigorated.

In Mo(u)rning Muholi delivered an exhibition that is not only rich in emotion, but works in ways that lifts the spirits of those it represents. This was evident in the ways the black lesbian audience broke out in song at the gallery, celebrating an archive that spoke of their realities. Mo(u)rning is a rich archive and thesis that re-shifts the ways in which the black lesbian and transgender community in South Africa can be viewed. It restores the dignity of a community continually violated. While we are in Mo(u)rning, we will not forget those of us who died, murdered for who they are. They may not have been famous. But, we will remember them for being true to themselves.

©Zethu Matebeni, 2012

MO(U)RNING by Zanele Muholi

In MO(U)RNING, Muholi presents elements of her documentation that were not lost, together with new work realised in recent months. The exhibition will include new and recent photographs from her Faces and Phases series of portraits and her Being series. Her multiple award-winning documentary Difficult Love, currently on view at Documenta 13 together withFaces and Phases, will be screened for the first time at the gallery. Photographs of crime scenes and new video works will also form part of the exhibition.

Her work gives public life to a community, its joys, traumas, fights and daily existence. She uses the power of visual material, offered by photographs and film, to affirm existing realities and expose truths and the cruel aspects of 21st century South African society where loving can be dangerous.

The QueenDom

THE QUEENDOM

BY DIRIYE OSMAN

A photoshoot inspired by fairytales and royal funkiness. The photos were taken by the impressive Boris Mitkov, a young photographer based in London and the makeup was handled by the brilliant, award-winning stylist, Christelle Kedi. The swagger, of course, is entirely my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Diriye Osman is a Somali-born, British writer, artist and editor. His fiction and non-fiction has been published by ‘Time Out’, ‘Attitude’, ‘Prospect’ and ‘Kwani?’ He is currently the deputy editor of ‘SCARF’ Magazine and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College, University of London. He is at work on a collection of short stories about gay and lesbian Somalis living in London and Nairobi.

Ghost Queen


GHOST QUEEN

BY DIRIYE OSMAN

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

- AUDRE LORDE

 

Photography: BORIS MITKOV

Makeup: CHRISTELLE KEDI

Gown: THE COSTUME STUDIO.

MO(U)RNING: Life and death, love and hate


STEVENSON is pleased to present MO(U)RNING, a solo exhibition by visual activist and photographer Zanele Muholi.

For Muholi, MO(U)RNING evokes death but also suggests the cycle of life as morning follows night. Life and death, love and hate are some of the antitheses that appear throughout her work.

In April this year, Muholi’s Cape Town apartment was burgled in what was apparently an attack directed at her visual activism. The lost material was an extensive archive of photographic work, videos and texts documenting hate crimes in South Africa and gender issues in Africa. Among this material was the Queercide project, created by Muholi to denounce and record hate crimes and atrocities committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The loss of this material raised many questions for Muholi. What happen when such images disappear or when a collection of testimonies is erased?

In MO(U)RNING, Muholi presents elements of her documentation that were not lost, together with new work realised in recent months. The exhibition will include new and recent photographs from her Faces and Phases series of portraits and her Being series. Her multiple award-winning documentary Difficult Love, currently on view at Documenta 13 together withFaces and Phases, will be screened for the first time at the gallery. Photographs of crime scenes and new video works will also form part of the exhibition.

Her work gives public life to a community, its joys, traumas, fights and daily existence. She uses the power of visual material, offered by photographs and film, to affirm existing realities and expose truths and the cruel aspects of 21st century South African society where loving can be dangerous.

 

 

The exhibition opens on Thursday 26 July from 6 to 8pm.

The gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.

 

Michael Stevenson Gallery -

Her Breast is Fit For Pearls

I woke up this morning and felt the need to re post this photograph -

 

Damsel's Planet by Zanele Muholi - 2005

 

Her breast is fit for pearls,
But I was not a “Diver”–
Her brow is fit for thrones
But I have not a crest.
Her heart is fit for home–
I–a Sparrow–build there
Sweet of twigs and twine
My perennial nest.

Emily Dickinson

 

Zanele Muholi: Raising consciousness through art

Is their a link between the defacement of “The Spear”, the painting of  Jacob Zuma which shows his genitals and the theft of five years of Zanele Muholi’s work?  Is free expression through art or any other medium under attack from the ANC government.  Possibly so.  Many of Zanele’s supporters question whether the theft of her work was politically motivated and or driven by homophobia.  In March 2010, the South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Minister Lulu Xingwana who has publicly expressed transphobic feelings,  criticised an exhibition of Zanele’swork as “Immoral, offensive and going against nation-building,” .  Zanele has been outspoken and outraged over the violence unleashed on the Black lesbian / queer community in South Africa using her photography and film to not only expose beatings, rapes and murders of Black lesbians but to make visible lesbian and queer intimacy,  to make the statement we are here and we love and live.   The South African online newspaper, The Daily Maverick  interviewed Zanele at the Open Forum on her work and the theft.

Muholi, a tiny woman with dreads and big, round brown eyes, sits on the floor in one of the corridors, leaning back against the wall. She is surrounded by friends and young gay women whom she had trained and mentored in documenting their lives.

Muholi’s work and activism have challenged the stereotypes of lesbian life, in an African environment. Her photographs and commentary make many people uncomfortable, even angry. Sexuality in Africa is a thorny topic. For many, gay female love is positively radioactive. It seems to make the more conservative among us incandescent with rage.

The South African traditional leadership body — Contralesa — is lobbying hard to have the Constitution changed to once again disallow gay marriage. They want a referendum, and are sure South Africans will reverse the right of gay folks to a legally binding partnership. That is, marriage.

In this heated atmosphere, Muholi’s images stoke the flames of prejudice among many. Her images of love, some might say forbidden love, really provoke the majority of people.

Continue reading

Campaign to replace Zanele Muholi’s stolen photography equipment

On the 28th 26th April, Zanele returned home from Seoul, South Korea to discover that all her work between 2008 and 2012 stored on 20 hard drives and including backups had been stolen on the 20th. The thieves also stole her cameras, lens, memory sticks and laptops. There are no words to describe Zanele’s feelings at this time as an entire original archive of Black queer lesbian history has been destroyed and that impacts on all of us – makes invisible what Zanele has worked so hard to make visible and speak of through her photography.

 Palm Wine, a  LGBTI Nigerian group based in New York has begun an  Indiegogo campaign to raise funds and to replace her equipment – PLEASE watch the video and donate what you can

I”ve lost all the work I produced from 2008 – 2012. Also backups were stolen.
I thought of the day I spoke with another friend about alternative storage. Now it is too late.
I feel like a breathing zombie right now.
I don’t even know where to start. I’m wasted.
I’ve sent out a note to friends to tell them about the incident.

The person/s got access to the flat via the toilet window, broke the burglar guard and got away with my cameras, lenses, memory cards and external hard drives, laptop, cellphones…
Whoever ransacked the place got away with more than 20 external hard drives with the most valuable content I’ve ever produced

I am hoping that a few of my good friends are willing to go to pawn shops or to other places where this type of equipment is sold. I do not even want to know who the thief is.