press release

STEVENSON is pleased to present a solo show by Sabelo Mlangeni. The exhibition brings together two bodies of work, Black Men in Dress and Iimbali.

Black Men in Dress comprises a series of portraits photographed at the Johannesburg and Soweto Pride, a yearly event for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community. These portraits remind Mlangeni of a childhood where, as he describes:

[M]ost communities had what we call 'uSis'bhuti'. This is a term used to describe a boy who behaves like a girl. Why then do we hate these boys when they have grown up to be men who dress as women? Why do we turn and call them names, pretending that we've never seen it? These are some of the issues I try to bring to the fore in this series.

As in Mlangeni's previous series Country Girls, a dramatic sense of fashion and a performative and playful manner is explored by gay men to engage with their sense of belonging and identity.

The Iimbali series was photographed at reed dances in KwaZulu-Natal and Swaziland. The reed dance is a traditional event where maidens bring reeds to rebuild the queen mother's home and pay allegiance to her, although it is perhaps better known as the king's opportunity to choose a new wife. Mlangeni has portrayed the reed dance through portraits of young women, as well as in-between moments during the week-long ceremony. Some of the images compel us to revisit debates surrounding the representation of the black female body as well as the historical relationship between anthropology and photography, which often makes it difficult to engage with nudity in traditional settings in the contemporary framework. When we reflect on Mlangeni's gentle portraits of young Zulu and Swati women, we are made aware of a ritual celebration that to outsiders may look archaic, yet to its participants is a rite of passage that forges commonality in a community.

The performative elements of exhibitionism and ritual tie together these two seemingly different bodies of work, in which urban, homosexual celebration is juxtaposed with rural, heterosexual tradition.

Mlangeni was born in 1980 in Driefontein near Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga. In 2001 he moved to Johannesburg where he joined the Market Photo Workshop, graduating in 2004. He won the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts in 2009. He has previously exhibited his Men Only, Country Girls, Ghost Towns and At Home series at Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg (2009-11). Recent group exhibitions include the 9th Rencontres de Bamako African Photography Biennial in Mali and the Lagos Photo Festival, Nigeria (both 2011); Appropriated Landscapes at the Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm/Burlafingen, Germany (2011); Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African photography at the V&A Museum, London (2011); Possible Cities: Africa in photography and video, Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, Pennsylvania (2011); Afropolis: City, Media, Art, Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne, Germany (2010); and I am not afraid: The Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg, Johannesburg Art Gallery (2010).

only in german

Sabelo Mlangeni
Black Men in Dress and Iimbali