by Thobeka Bhengu
Photos by: Lerato Dumse
The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress by: Thobeka Bhengu
The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress is rightly explained as” a living work of art”; To celebrate International Human Rights Day, the dress arrived on the African continent for the first time. The Netherlands Embassy and the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation held the International Human Rights Day celebration at Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on December 10 2018. The dress is made of national flags from countries where homosexuality is illegal. It is currently made up of 75 flags, and when a country adopts legislation that is inclusive of LGBTI+ people, the flag is then replaced by a rainbow flag. The dress measures over 16 meters in length.
It is a clear representation of the global status quo on “government-sponsored LGBTI phobia”. The dress itself is a powerful symbol in defence of LGBTI+ rights. It enforces much-needed debate on inclusion and awareness, and it is also a painful reminder that LGBTI+ rights in 75 countries are trampled on. It is a reminder that LGBTI+ individuals in these countries do not have equal rights and protection. They still live in danger of being imprisoned or violated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The dress is usually seen on an elevated mannequin or models in the country where it is shown.
Designed by Arnout van Krimpen, the dress has travelled and its presence has been recorded at meaningful locations around the world. There is an ongoing series of photographic images being captured in different locations using different models and photographers. In South Africa, the dress was modelled by Yaya Mavundla, a Brave Beauties participant, a transgender activist who has recently received the Socialite of the Year award at the 2018 Feather awards.
At the unveiling of the dress, Yaya Mavundla spoke about coming from the rural Kwa-Zulu Natal as a transwoman. “I am a transgender woman from the rural KZN, where when you speak of transgender people they are like what is she talking about. And for me having to be myself and having to be here is something very brave that I have done. For me wearing this dress that has so much power and so much meaning, I look at what it speaks about and I look at spaces where I come from especially in rural areas, and wherever transgender people are coming from in rural areas. The laws that are made around Africa that are against the LGBTI rights are the exact same thing that happens in the areas where we come from”.
Optimistically in about a decade, all those flags should be replaced by the rainbow flags, which will be a huge victory for human rights, LGBTI+ people and gender diverse people around the world. The dress continues to travel around the globe and we are honoured to have seen it on our shores as the first African country to have the dress on display.