Documenting the Queer Lives of Côte d’Ivoire & Mozambique

Lining the walls of Johannesburg’s Goethe-Institut, large-scale black-and-white images offer an intimate, seductive and ultimately celebratory peek into the lives of Côte d’Ivoire’s and Mozambique’s queer folk: lovers in intimate embrace; bubbly-swilling party-goers; gender-queer couples caught in mid-dance flirtation; trans women staring with do-absolutely-not-fuck-with-me defiance directly into the photographer’s lens.

Shot in 2015 and 2016 in Côte d’Ivoire and Mozambique respectively, the project was conceptualised by Raymond Dakoua, a Côte d’Ivoire-born, Brussels-based photographer in 2014.

“I am not qualified to represent LGBTI people. I can only speak about my journey, but I can never represent this community. I can never speak for them. There are different ways to conduct a struggle. Some demonstrate; some write. My medium is photography.”

Sitting in the gallery’s courtyard the day after the exhibition opening, which included a panel discussion between Dakoua, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights activist and photographer Jabu Perreira, Tollman award-winning photographer Sabelo Mlangeni and Côte d’Ivoirian transgender activist Barbara, Dakoua explains how the project started.

“I was busy putting together a body of work in which I captured mixed couples. Because of that project, a friend invited me to a get-together at his house. Now, usually when you are invited to someone’s house in Brussels, you expect to see only white people. But when I got there, there were all these people from everywhere. A lot of them were LGBTI refugees from Uganda and the more I spoke to them, the more I got to thinking I should explore what is happening in my home country.”

Having made contact with LGBTI activists and organisations in Côte d’Ivoire, Dakoua was informed that, although the country does not explicitly regulate against homosexuality, LGBTI people in the country were still easy and regular targets for “intimidation, humiliation and physical violence”. It was with little surprise that the photographer, who identifies as heterosexual, met some resistance when he set out to document the lives of queer people in his country of birth. “There was some resistance in the beginning, because of a general suspicion of the media and what the pictures would be used for. But once I started explaining the idea, people were like, ‘If you want to know how we live, follow us.’ ”

Adamant that this resistance did not stem from the fact he is a heterosexual man documenting queer lives, Dakoua adds: “I am not qualified to represent LGBTI people. I can only speak about my journey, but I can never represent this community. I can never speak for them. There are different ways to conduct a struggle. Some demonstrate; some write. My medium is photography.”

“For me, all documentation of our lives, whether it is writing, film, art, whatever, is important. It is proof of our existence —an existence that others might have wanted to erase from history.”

From the Mail & Guardian article by Carl Collison.

The Exhibition A Place To Call Their Own by Raymond Dakoua is showing until 17 March at the Goethe-Institut, 119 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, Johannesburg.

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