… from Joburg, South Africa to Antwerp, Belgium
by Kopano Sibeko
This time last week as I recall I was anticipating Tuesday, 23rd July as that would be the day I collect my visa, as two days after that would be the day I leave Johannesburg, South Africa for Antwerp, Belgium. Days went really fast after that and the last thing I remember I was waving goodbye to my family and friends. 10 hours later I was in another country, Abu Dhabi International airport experiencing the excruciating heat wave it presented to my awkwardness I still had my boots and my winter jacket on as when we left Johannesburg it was really cold. My guess is I slept throughout the flight experience, yes it was my first flight and the excitement must have worn me down.
At 20:00 I was at the Galerie Verbeeck van Dyk at the opening exhibition of Linda Vermeiren & Zanele Muholi‘s Faces and Phases hosted by Paul Verbeeck, the gallery owner and Bruno Devos, the curator of the same space which happen to be in the cultural program of the 2013 World Outgames, Antwerp as at July 31 until August 11.
To my amazement and amusement it’s still sunny and bright outside and yet is it at night time. While I’m trying to digest that it than hits me that apart from Zanele Muholi, Lesego Tlhwale and I there’s only one black woman in a crowd of +/- 100 people who was at the exhibition that we attended. The next question I asked, “Could this be normal?”
According to Yvette Gongha, the only black amongst white locals most of her friends couldn’t make it because the space is mainly predominated by white people “I wish there were more people of colour because we should represent. People feel it, they know it but they are afraid because when they come to such places there are a lot of white people and white people start staring at you.”
She tells me that she came because she has been following Zanele’s work for so long and it inspired her particularly because she’d also love to produce documentaries.
“To bring black people to such events I think we should think of our own culture and how we celebrate it. This is really nice for them and for us is a huge step to come and see a follow black person exhibiting, but maybe if we have exhibitions in another space here in Antwerp accessible for black people maybe they’all be more exposure”, she shares with excitement.
Linda Vermeriene explains that she is honoured to be exhibited alongside the amazing work of Zanele, “I have always been a photographer, I had my first camera when I was 12 years old” she said. She further shares with me that her first biggest exhibition was in 2007 exhibiting 55 portraits of 10 transversites, “for me it was actually a test to see how people would react and so far people are responding positively.”
Linda says she had to familiarize herself with other transverstites and their bars so she could meet more of them since she first met one in 2003 and from then she never looked back. “To me sexual identity is not important, people are people” she expressed.
The room was packed with smiling faces, fascinated with the beautiful work of art hanging on the walls. Professor Johan Swinnen, a lecturer at the University of Brussels had the crowd attentive while he read and explained the arty work of both artists.
The lecturer of history and philosophy of photography said “I am really happy that I am opening this exhibition of Zanele Muholi here in Antwerp in a really important gallery, because I remember I discovered Zanele last year at Documenta (13) in Kassel, Germany and it was really interesting for me to see her work”, he chuckled.
The people were very warm and very inquisitive about what the story behind each face. Most were particularly moved because Lesego who features in the series of Faces and Phases was present and made them extremely intrigued.
On the other hand while I try to blend in with the crowd and enjoy the attention, it came as a shock to me that most European people still have this ‘twisted’ perception about African states and most of them felt so sympathetic towards us, maybe they should, I mean South Africa is notorious for all this negativity she embodies.
Overall the exhibition was exceptionally extraordinary, the people were inviting and I love the atmosphere. As I type this I feel a little hungry and that just triggered the thought that yesterday Lesego and I had to walk to find McDonald’s because the food here is tasteless but most of all expensive. I’m not sure if I like it much in any case I’m not adventurous with food, so being in a foreign state, eating foreign food and spending two weeks with foreign people now that’s my idea of a fun working holiday.
2013 July 27: African Lesbians and Transgender Facing Belgium