“The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free
But you live with the fear of just being me
Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be
No harm for them, no harm for me
But life is short, and it’s time to be free
Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed”
- Gloria Carter, Smile.
There are many things that are up for debate. But one thing we all seem to agree on is the necessity of love. We need love. Which is why I found this whole idea of revolutionary type love interesting. Why did love also need to be finessed? What was wrong with the ordinary brand of love? This leads us to challenge what we have seen as ordinary, who that excludes. And how those excluded find home, find voice and center themselves. Perhaps this is why when Kawiria Mwirichia brought six queer photographers together they described the project as a project whose “main purpose is the acknowledgement and celebration of Queer love and the Queer individual.”
It is this idea of the queer individual that I would like to start with. And to do this I will focus on Awuor Onyango’s work. Awuor tried to create using Focault’s interior ‘androgyny and hermaphrodism of the soul that which created the homosexual out of the sodomite, a kind of Kenyan queer semiology.’ It is difficult to read through this without drawing thinking of humanizing. Making human, making whole. And it is difficult to take that away from the Facebook post I saw earlier this morning of a gay man proposing to his partner, and the hundreds of hate comments under it. How would humanizing queer people look like in such a space? What does working towards that mean for the individual and how does it affect the choices they make? Aptly named, “Visibility is a Trap,” the five part series does a lot of work around showing bodies and giving them a form of intrinsic power. None of the revolutionary loves she shows are working against anything external. Rather her subjects always seem to yield themselves. Perhaps in here is where we begin to see the humanizing work, the owning of the self and of the body.
The exhibition room itself feels warm. The walls are draped with yellow and red cloth. All the windows are closed and the light is set low. Along the floor the paths are mapped in Khanga. The net result is warmth. ‘We even wanted to put pillows on the ground but then we were afraid people would fall asleep’ Kawiria says, chuckling. And it did put you at ease, the second you walked in. And looked at the first exhibition, which was Faith Wanjala’s work.
Her photo series was about the individual finding their light, slowly shifting from being able to connect with oneself to being able to connect with an other. In many ways this series echoed the work of Mal Muga, who used his space on the wall to talk about vulnerability in gay men. In both scenarios the subjects first had to deal with themselves before being able to deal with another. This is not to say they were the same though. Faith Wanjala’s work focused on the self. Trying to show how one must come to themselves, and their own light before sharing or partaking in the light of another. Meanwhile, Mal’s work seemed to focus on how one must trust the other that they are giving themselves to. He demonstrated this taking inspiration from the Japanese form of bondage art known as Kinbaku.
Maganga decided to show queer love in its everydayness. He captured intimacies that lead me one to question – why are all these things happening indoors? Why not on the street? It’s Hand holding, sharing a meal, hugs . The banalities of being in a relationship and how they look. His work, he hopes will “humanise queer people and see that LGBTIQ relationships aren’t only just about sex,” something that Neo Musangi does not shy away from in their work. Not necessarily sex, but this idea of the phallus and why it is at the only way we seem to be able to imagine gender.
Wawera Njeru, on the other hand, decided focus on Dennis Nzioka. Dennis Nzioka is an activist and has been on the forefront of the queer struggle in the country. Towards her celebration of him she captures his tattoos and in two images tries to explore this idea of the lone wolf. A philosophy that Nzioka himself lives by.
The thing that most appealed to me about this project was the diversity of ideas it offered. In a space where to be queer is often equated to sex, as Maganaga explores, the project gives life to this idea of diverse ways of being, of allowing ourselves to be, and of allowing others to be. And this is important in a space where love has been so strictly defined. Perhaps this is the revolutionary type love. Love that allows other to be in different ways.
To Revolutionary Type Love ran from May 18th to June 3rd 2017.A sequel is expected in 2018. Find them on Instagram here.