Sabelo Mlangeni 8
Sabelo Mlangeni (b. 1980, Driefontein, Mpumalanga) is a Johannesburgbased photographer. He moved to Johannesburg in 2001 to study Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop, completing his studies in 2004. His first solo show titled Invisible Women was held at the defunct Warren Siebrits gallery in Johannesburg in 2007. He is currently represented by Stevenson, where he has exhibited his most impactful work to date, notably Country Girls (2003-2009) and Ghost Towns (2009-2011). Mlangeni took-up photography in the small towns and rural areas he encountered growing up, documenting the commonplace, abject desolation, particularly in his home province of Mpumalanga. Mlangeni works exclusively with black-and-white photography, portraying the often ignored and unspoken aspects of life in rural South Africa. His explorations of Outsider politics and cultural idiosyncrasies in towns such as Driefontein, Ermelo, Bethal, Piet Retief, Standerton and Sekunda are a testament to a drastically changing society struggling to hold onto its heritage, whilst straining to maintain its integrity in an increasingly globalized world. Perceptions of Gay culture and
the affects of urbanization on rural cultural conventions and traditional rites of passage are important themes that Mlangeni deconstructs. He challenges traditional African stereotypes about homosexuality and gender, depicting often-unseen yet unadulterated, intimate yet non-voyeuristic visions of the artist’s world as a Gay man. Mlangeni ironically finds virtue in traditional rites of passage because they forge a sense of commonality, which he embraces in the context of the Otherness. The performative qualities of Mlangeni’s images tend to traverse these opposing worldviews, in which urban and rural, homosexual and heterosexual all fall under the auspices of tradition. Reiterating the perennial bond between anthropology and photography, and reflecting upon pertinent issues often seen as taboo in rural communities, where tribalism vies against liberalism, Mlangeni exposes an indifferent world where Gay African men find their sense of belonging and identity. Mlangeni’s subjects are far from affluent; life is not easy for them. This impoverishment is apparent in the rural environments that Mlangeni
portrays alongside the often hidden lives his subjects live. His depictions of small rural towns, all but forgotten, dissect the notion of ‘uSis’bhuti’, bringing African Gay life to the fore. The term ‘uSis’bhuti’ describes the manner in which young boys sometimes act like little girls. Mlangeni questions the narrow view implied by ‘uSis’bhuti’, shunning the fact that Gays are seen as un-African, or a by-product of Anglicisation, globalisation and democracy. Mlangeni’s depictions of small towns, practically abandoned, on the edge of nowhere, communicate an important shift that has taken place within most African communities. The opportunities and freedom afforded to urban dwellers have never reached these towns, emphasizing age-old scars left unattended, and debts left unpaid. Mlangeni’s portrayal of spaces-inwaiting and people-in-transition ultimately tells the story of the migration of traditions and the rootedness of cultural space. The remaining landscape is eerily surreal and isolated, suspended in time, ultimately painting the picture of Gay life in the backwaters of the South African countryside.
A catalogue detailing the works and artists included in the third iJusi portfolio, curated by Pieter Hugo.