Meanwhile… // Representing Queer Narratives Across the Continent

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity…When we reject the single story, when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Floating bodies, limbs longing in a pastel universe. Stars glinting with possibilities. Surrounded by encroaching cloud of electrified reality. Meanwhile… Graphic short stories about everyday queer life in Southern and East Africa is both beautiful and heart-wrenching. The visual anthology offers a re-imagining of queer life on the continent. The comic book format frame moments of lived experiences, depicting the “queerness of the imperfect present, even as we strive toward a more just future”.

Photography by Bongani Khoza

In the evocative foreword, Senegalese-American journalist, Selly Thiam, reflects on a youth spent yearning to see herself represented in the texts that filled the shelves of her high school library. “Not only was it impossible to find anything that wasn’t a clinical definition of homosexuality, it was impossible to find something that felt Black and Queer, African and Queer.” Although perhaps not a unique experience, stories like hers illustrate the urgent necessity for the representation of African queer voices.

Meanwhile…in many ways answers this call. Alex Mueller and Talia Meer from the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (UCT) instigated the project. “The Qintu Collab was formed to allow young queer people from a few African countries to come together, share experiences and create context-specific, queer-positive media that documents relatable stories about and for queer African youth.” After creating personal timelines and body maps, participants of the project engaged in a two-day comic book workshop with illustrators Nas Hoosen and Kit Beukes. During the workshop, members of the Qintu Collab were encouraged to visually and textually depict their own lives. The stories that emerged from the workshop were then divided between the illustrators. While Cape Town based illustrator, Lambi, designed the dreamscape cover and ‘poster pin-ups’.

Photography by Bongani Khoza

In a conversation Hoosen, he reflected on the cathartic nature of the process – returning to an intuitive, child-like and instantaneous creative space. Noting that the design process also maintained a level of transparency – members of the collective were able to give feedback throughout. Although the illustrators had creative freedom in translating the stories visually, the experimental process hinged on collaboration. Meanwhile… at times breaks form with traditional comic book conventions. However, the immediacy of the medium allowed for the anthology to be produced in a year. This form of representation importantly maintains anonymity and protects the identities of the participants who would otherwise face the threat of serious persecution in their home-countries.

Photography by Bongani Khoza

Published through MaThoko’s Books, an imprint of the GALA Queer Archives (GALA), this anthology actively challenges mainstream depictions of sexual and gender diversity – by presenting multiple rather than a singular narrative of queer life across the spectrum. GALA director Keval Harie expresses how, “this publication allows readers to recognise the complexities of our lives – our joys and sorrows, our struggles and triumphs. Meanwhile… is of vital importance to the work of GALA, as it ensures in both a symbolic and practical way that the narratives of LGBTIQ people are preserved, celebrated and publicly accessible”. The anthology is available for purchase at the offices in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

So this work that we all do as artists and culture makers – we are creating a window. We create mirrors. We write ourselves an existence that transcends our proposed limitations. Where we have love and grace. And we show who we are. And that there is another way to see us.

– Selly Thiam

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