By Elena Schaetz
In 2019 I traveled to South Africa to contribute to the work of the queer NGO Gay and Lesbian Network (GLN) in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. GLN is focused on queer activism in the rural areas around Pietermaritzburg where they conduct workshops to educate and empower the community on topics such as sexuality and gender. As an organization from the community for the community, they built a place of support and connection for queer people. GLN aims to strengthen a network of LGBTI organizations, activists and allies in the province by bringing people together to share their knowledge.
Media plays a major role when it comes to their activism. GLN’s team gives queer South Africans the opportunity to learn skills like producing podcasts and creative writing to help them find their voice.
While I spent two months working at GLN’s social media team, they introduced me to Prof. Sir Zanele Muholi’s work and told me great stories about the impact Muholi has on the queer community as a visual artist and activist.
One of my colleagues took part in one of Muholi’s photography workshops and has been supported by them since then. He grew up as a trans boy in a township nearby and described to me how art has helped him figuring out his identity and how important it is to express that identity.
I have always valued art for the variety of emotions and stories it conveys and I deeply believe in the importance of representation. Muholi’s photographs show marginalized people in beautiful portraits, embracing their identities in a graceful and empowered way.
Like GLN, Muholi aims to connect and empower queer South Africans. They created the blog Inkanyiso (Zulu for „to light“) in 2006 as a platform for information and inspiration regarding queer rights, queer visual art and black queerness in South Africa.
Three years later Muholi registered Inkanyiso as a non profit organization, in response to the lack of visual histories and skills training produced by and for the LGBTI community. Since then, a collective of artists, writers and activists have been involved in Inkanyiso.
Their goal is to inform the reader on the struggles of marginalized groups by telling personal stories or showing different art pieces in forms of poetry, photography and videos. Inkanyiso also provides information on the political situation in South Africa and how current events affect the local LGBTI community.
South Africa has a very liberal and queer friendly constitution – same-sex marriage has been legalized in 2006, which makes it the fifth country worldwide giving queer people the right to legally get married. But the legal situation does not necessarily reflect the everyday life. Hate crimes like „corrective rapes“ – the rape of queer people with the intention to „turn“ them heterosexual, are still happening on a daily basis, forcing the LGBTI to take action like Muholi did with Inkanyiso.
Inkanyiso tackles issues regarding race, sexuality and gender, including black trans, lesbian and gay struggles in different parts of South Africa. The posts show the complexity and fluidity of gender and sexuality and give insight on personal problems as well as on structural, political issues. But Inkanyiso is not only a source for information, it’s also a place for empowerment. The writers show how art can shape the world, how they learned various skills and how they now use these skills to make a difference.
Muholi’s latest work – the workshops or speeches they give and their art works as well, is also partly presented on Inkanyiso.
„Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness” is a series of self portraits which Muholi started in 2012. The ongoing project now contains 365 pieces that show Muholi’s alter egos, mostly coming from a Zulu background, expressing Muholi’s identity as a black nonbinary queer South African.
Their project Faces and Phases, started in 2006, continues the theme of black queer identity but puts it in a wider perspective since it features a huge variety of black queer people instead of focusing on one individual. The 13th anniversary of this project lead to their latest solo photography exhibition Faces and Phases 13 which took place at STEVENSON in Johannesburg in 2019. With more than 500 black and white portraits of lesbians, gender-nonconforming individuals and transmen, the series Faces and Phases shows different aspects of gender and sexuality in black spaces. It focuses on black lesbian identities in townships and politics in post-apartheid South Africa. During Muholi’s travels they also documented black lesbian and trans people outside of their home country.
About the artist: Zanele Muholi was born in 1972 in Durban, South Africa. After attending an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg in 2003, they held their first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery one year later. They finished university with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Documentary Media from Ryerson University in Toronto. In 2014 they taught visual activism at Hochschule für Künste in Bremen, Germany. Since then, they worked as a visual artist and queer activist, raising awareness on queer rights and focusing on increasing the visibility of black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people.
About the author: Elena Schaetz is currently enrolled in the Master’s program Afrikawissenschaften at Humboldt-University, Berlin. Her work focuses on literature, culture, gender and queerness in South African regions.
As a second project in the research-oriented MA course „Multi-local families in times of increased geographical and communicative mobility“ (summer term 2020), we present Pia Weide’s project „Mediated Food Rituals of transnational families – ‘Doing family’ from a distance – Emotional connectivity and co-presence in culinary practices“.
Researching rituals in culinary practices performed by Germany-based migrants and their distant families on video-based platforms in relation to familyhood.
Mediated co-presence can be created through the use of video-based platforms, which provide emotional connectivity and intimacy, but can also bring communicative challenges and tensions along. By analysing different forms of presence, such as Ambient Co-Presence (Madianou, 2016), Mediated Co-Presence (Marino, 2019) and Connected Presence (Licoppe, 2004) and interviewing migrants living in Hamburg, Germany, I aim to move towards the following questions:
How do rituals in communication practices influence the everyday live of transnational families?
What kind of (new) emotions are created in ambient co-presence?
What role does food play in experiencing emotional boundaries in transnational families?
What emotional difference is experienced when sharing food in mediated co-presence compared to physical presence?
Culinary practices are strongly connected to personal and social identification markers and enable individuals to create a feeling of shared and cultural identity. Food often functions as a preservation of a feeling of belonging, especially in family contexts. It is not just a physical necessity, but also a psychological one that offers community-based practices. Food often organises families’ everyday live at home – so what happens, when food becomes deterritorialized from the physical place of home? How do food practices and emotions shift in mediated co-presence within transnational contexts families?
How can transnational families overcome the physical distance by creating digital rituals of communication in order to exchange emotions, sensory experiences and shared feelings of connectivity?
“(…) food ‘stirs the emotions’ precisely because of its physical nature and sensual affordances, which ‘call the continuity of identity through a vivid nostalgic experience.’”
Lupton 1996: 30.
About the author:
Pia Weide is currently enrolled in the Masters program of Modern South Asian and Southeast Asian Studies at Humboldt University of Berlin.
She studied ‘Regionalstudien Asien / Afrika’ at Humboldt University of Berlin and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2018.
The research-oriented MA course „Multi-local families in times of increased geographical and communicative mobility“ (summer term 2020) has resulted in very creative works. In this series we present some of the projects, starting with Emma Lo’s work.
Doing family multi-locally can be facilitated by range of different tactics and technologies to keep a family connected across distances and borders. One of these methods of connection is the act of mailing packages and crossing borders with additional baggage containing goods for families. Care packages can be a highly personalized and intimate form of communication, but their contents are subject to national and international regulations (Tristram 2020), and may be informed by a number of micro-and macro-level decisions that shape a multi-local family’s configuration of care (Böcker et al). While this long-established method persists, particularly among multi-local families from East and Southeast Asia, new technologies have made it possible to digitalize aspects of care packages. This zine presents the concept of the care package in the context of multi-local families, and highlights the trajectory of this method in the digital age. The format of this zine, which combines a physical cut-and-paste technique with digital editing, points to the new dynamic that defines multi-local families today: a combination of material and digital interactions that overlap and continuously feed into one another.
For overseas Filipino workers (OFW), the balikbayan (return to home) box is a kind of care package sent to ‘left-behind’ family members in the Philippines, especially around holidays. These boxes may include cosmetics, shoes and clothing, canned foods and other food items, and even electronics to be repaired (Pinoy-OFW.com 2019). In Helena Patzer’s research on OFWs in the US (2018), she emphasizes the importance of food in balikbayan boxes. Considering the implications of food shipments for multi-local families, she argues that packages from abroad “allow migrants to control food consumption of the family in the country of origin,” which can impact the “changing patterns of food consumption in the community of origin,” touching on the concept of ‘social remittances’.
Another variation of the care package is the red-white-blue bag, which often accompanies travelers between Hong Kong and mainland China. Wessie Ling (2018) writes that “the image and nature of border-crossing travellers carrying a Red-White-Blue bag has developed especially since the 1980s, when mainland China adopted an open policy encouraging population flow between the two regions.”Ubiquitous in East Asia, these bags have also spread to other regions, and are “called a lot of different things by people in different parts of the world. They are Ghana Must Go bags in Nigeria, Zimbabwe bags in South Africa and Türken Koffer in Germany, names that speak to the flow of global migration”(Dewolf 2019).
After presenting these two types of packages, the zine enters a discussion of contemporary influences: digital innovations and the ongoing corona virus pandemic. Digital platforms provide information about postal and customs regulations, and social media platforms feature multi-media content that offer suggestions for how and what to pack. Mobile phones with video calling capacities allow the recipient family members to open care packages with the sender looking on, who can explain in real-time the contents of the box. This added digital element to the packing, sending, and receiving process brings a new synchronous dynamic to the method. Among the global effects of corona virus are serious issues that affect multi-local families, such preventing people from traveling home, an increased scarcity of certain items, and further economic strain. As scarcities differ from country to country and locality to locality, multi-local families have been shipping surgical masks and other in-demand items to family members in other locations. In addition, charities and some state actors have also shipped boxes of supplies, tests, and trial vaccines to those in need.
Finally, the zine offers some reflection on the conceptual reach of care packages, and traces their influence in the way people are curating content during pandemic-related lockdowns. Without the option to convene in-person events, cultural institutions have put together packages that are shared digitally, offering collections of visual art, poetry, and film, with an emphasis on ‘self-care’. Similar to multi-local families, these institutions have to innovate to find ways to maintain a community from a distance, and have also found the package concept useful.
About the author: Emma Lo is currently enrolled in the Masters program of Modern South Asian and Southeast Asian Studies at Humboldt University of Berlin.
She studied Political Science (with Commendation), Modern Languages and Literatures at Kenyon College in Ohio and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2015.