interseXion, a solo exhibition by Robert A. Hamblin, in association with Lizamore & Associates gallery and Iziko Museums of South Africa, opened at the Iziko South African National Gallery (ISANG) in Cape Town this month.
The exhibition is centred within Hamblin’s photographic images, voice and video installations pertaining to sex work in South Africa – in particular work with transgender women (male to female) who sell sex. Using these mediums, Hamblin intersects his own gender transition with the experiences of black transgender sex workers in Cape Town and Kimberley. Developed over a period of five years, interseXion consists of three series of work: ‘The Sistaaz Hood’, ‘Diamond Town Girls’ and ‘interseXion’. Hamblin, together with founding members of The Sistaaz Hood set out to create advocacy tools in Cape Town during 2012, through the Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) organisation.
During the time spent at SWEAT, Hamblin met sex work activist Leigh Davids, who subsequently founded a support group for transwomen in rural Kimberley. There they continued their work with the Diamond Town Girls transwomen. Together, their friendship and work found them at a deep consciousness of their severely different experiences as trans people, and they set out to explore these issues in the ‘interseXion’ series of videos and images.
Challenging popular notions
“The blurry, unrealistic, mostly decontextualised images are intentional. My work method reflects a mandated representation of these trans bodies, challenging popular notions of the representation of gender, sex work and disenfranchised people,” says Hamblin about his work.
Hamblin and the trans sex work activists depicted and interviewed for this exhibition, join an active and ongoing debate around the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa; and the socio-political issues surrounding individuals in the industry, wherein transgender women are described as the most vulnerable population. In this exhibition, Hamblin and Davies pointedly present the juxtaposing of their clothed and naked trans bodies, as evidence of the persistent disparities that remain between people in post-apartheid South Africa. Leigh Davids, sex worker and activist says, “While living in the streets since I was fourteen years old, I saw how rich white transpeople went home to their families and how poor black transpeople slept in the streets.”
Along with the photographic and video work on this exhibition, recorded voices unveil intimate interviews with Hamblin, Davids, members of The Sistaaz Hood and Diamond Town Girls support groups, about their own lives and experiences. These sound installations serve as soundtracks to stop motion videos and installation works. The sound installation “Talk on the Yellow Line” presents candid group work dealing with sex, pleasure and identity opposed to childhood abuse, injustice and violence from police, families and sex work clients alike.
The showing of this exhibition is particularly relevant in South Africa at this time, when the decriminalision of sex work has been foregrounded since the resolution recommendation at the last African National Conference (ANC) elective conference. The opening night included a “stunt performance” by The Sistaaz Hood – the collective of trans sex workers who are represented in the exhibition. The power of the “stunt performance” lies in their direct eye contact with the audience. The exposure of their personal beingness in this public space is a defiant and painful manifestation of the challenges they experience.
Where and when: Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town until 26 August 2018