All the project below were created during 2 months artist's residency at Greatmore Studios, Cape Town, 2020. The residency included also a solo exhibition, supported by Art Council England. To see documentation from the exhibition please click here
None of us is free until all of us are free / a socially engaged photography project with members of the Triangle Project
"Maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary."
Black Panthers co-founder, Huey Newton 1970.
Whilst researching materials for the exhibition "Riot! Celebrating Stonewall's Anniversary" I was struck by a photograph, taken in 1972 at the Los Angeles Christopher Street West Pride Parade, by the celebrated photographer and activist Cathy Cade. The photo shows three young black children holding signs, one of which has the slogan "None of us is free until all of us are free". The slogan paraphrased Martin Luther King's “Poor People's Campaign and an Economic Bill of Rights” speech:
"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can't really get rid of one without getting rid of the others…"
While Dr King was not an advocate of LGBT rights (nor he was against them) the Black Panthers party chairman, Huey Newton, certainly was. In a 1970 speech in New York, he outlined his desire to collaborate with the women's liberation movement as well as with the gay liberation front.
The slogan "None of us is free until all of us are free" which is much associated with Dr King, has an even longer lineage. It was coined in 1887 by the Jewish American author and activist Emma Lazarus. Lazarus is best known for "The New Colossus". Celebrating America as a safe space for migrants and refugees, its lines are transcribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
A century later, echoing these words, Audre Lorde, the black American writer and activist, during the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979 declared:
"I am proud to raise my voice here in this day as a black, lesbian feminist committed to struggle for a world where all our children can grow free from the diseases of racism, of sexism, of classism, and of homophobia. For those oppressions are inseparable."
And yet, because not all of us are free, in 2020 Black Lives Matter amplified the voices of other oppressed communities such as transgenders, the Palestinian people and the economically disadvantaged.
In recognition of the necessity for solidarity in the struggle of an array of oppressed groups, I came up with the idea of the photography project "None of us is free until all of us are free". The project was commissioned by Brighton Pride and exhibited at the SEAS' Riot! Exhibition at the Black and Minorities Ethnic Community Partnership (BMECP) Centre in 2019.
The project was continued in early 2020 as part of an artist residency at Greatmore Studios in Cape Town, South Africa. Supported by the Triangle Project charity, the project, was carried out with LGBT people from the Western Cape townships. It aimed to raise awareness of the difficulties LGBT people face in the townships and more generally in African countries where they are still persecuted or discriminated against. After a short introduction and a meal, the participants were asked to write campaign slogans about issues they cared about and would like to change. They were then photographed with a unicorn, a non-binary mythical creature that symbolises a desire for something that is not there (yet). The project participants had to stay anonymous, and their faces were disguised with "national flowers" of various African countries. The project includes testimonies collected by the Triangle Project of LGBT people affected by the intersection of their sexuality, gender, poverty and migration.
To learn more about the Triangle Project, please visit:
CapeTown is Burning / Backstage photography of Mr & Ms Cape Town Pride
Mr & Miss Cape Town Pride is one of the highlights of Cape Town Pride. It is a mixture of 80s Harlem Ballroom, Rupaul’s Drag Race and a beauty pageant - minus the body fascism that is the essence of the latter. More than the Pride party itself, the ball is served and adored by the BIPOC community, which is still marginalised from Cape Town’s mainly white gay scene. It took place far from the "nice part of town" or even from the downtown where most of the gay venues are, but at the city’s edge near one of its satellite townships.
Invited by the producers to document the event, I decided to concentrate on backstage - photographing the competitors while they got ready to parade. What moved me the most was the love, tenderness and mutual care among the participants. I felt honoured and grateful to be there.
No Mans Lands [The Couple]
“Fantasy is not the object of desire, but its setting.” Laplanche and Pontalis
“It is precisely the moment in which the phantasmatic assumes the status of the real, that is, when the two become compellingly conflated, that the phantasmatic exercises its power most effectively.” Judith Butler
The Couple series is part of No Man’s Lands - a five year project that documents being in a state of limbo. Developing socially engaged photographic practices, whereby the photoshoot ‘s aspects were determined in conversations with the participants, the process became collaborative from the outset. While addressing certain realities these photoshoots produce what Butler calls a ‘phantasmic’ space that go further than mere representation. This is due to the subject’s projection of their (imagined) selves, or in other words, the creation of their self re-presentation, in the photographic process.
This series aims to represent the "in-limbo" conditions of Mihlali (a closeted gay man) and his best friend Lelethu (who’s lover is engaged to a woman). Mihlali contemplated how his position as a closeted gay man could be depicted photographically as the tensions between his position - of invisibility and/or charade - clashed with the medium of photography which, allegedly, revolves around truthtelling and visibility. In Lelethu's case, the challenge was to represent the absence of his lover, or the absence of a kind of relationship he was seeking. In both cases, we wanted to represent something that cannot be made visible, at least not straightforwardly. After a long conversation, looking at various possibilities, rather than trying to depict their real situations, the two decided to play a ‘real gay couple’ for the photoshoot.
We spent a day at Greatmore Studios residency’s house, chatting, cooking, eating, hanging laundry, sleeping, reading - imagining what “a normal” gay couple might do over the weekend. The reality that was played in that house was a fantasy for them and for many other LGBTQ+ people in their position. It was agreed from the start that Mihlali's face will be blurred in the edited photos. Coming out was out of the question.
A few weeks after, when the photos were sent (before blurring his face), Mihlali sent me a message saying that he was in tears and that there was no need to blur the photos anymore. He said: “I look so happy in these photos, in such a relationship, it looks so real. I don’t want to lie anymore”. Curiously, it was the lie, the acting or in Butler’s words the ‘phantasmatic’ setting that marked the boundaries between reality and fiction that brought Mihlali to traverse the closet’s boundaries and finally come out.
No Mans Lands [Yamkala]
No Mans Lands [Alien]
A series of photos and a recorded conversation with Keith (pseudonym) – “an illegal” migrant that escapes persecution as a gay man in Malawi and moved to Cape Town, South Africa. Keith is an undocumented migrant with no rights and is facing deportation.
The video above includes a recorded conversation with Keith which was taken place before the photo shoot and a transcription of the interview can be read below.
The series "Alien" is part of the socially engaged photography project "No Man's Lands".
No Man’s Lands (2016-) is an ongoing art photography project that uses a collaborative approach to convey the stories of men that are or were in limbo circumstances due to political, social, economic, or other factors. On the surface, the portraits are of individual men, yet as a whole, they also reflect contemporary global issues such as political persecution, the effects of wars or economic inequality, racial discrimination, persecution of LGBT persons, and more. As part of his socially engaged art practice, the photoshoots are based on long conversation/s with photographs about their personal stories as well as on the ways they would like to be photographed and represent their story.