Jamal Nxedlana

ArtCulturePoliticsRaceSex & Gender

afropunk interview: the rise of the african queer

April 10, 2019
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Photos by Jamal Nxedlana of Bubblegumclub for AFROPUNK

An important aspect of dismantling is world building. To dismantle is to undo, remove and create a vacuum where old and harmful ideas used to take up space. That vacuum is prime real estate for new, more compassionate beliefs, often accompanied by different figures and deities. After all, we understand our world, it’s mechanisms and origins through the various deities we pledge our faith to. What world awaits the deity that is queer, of color and African? Who are the role models and forces of good that queer people can look to when imagining a higher being that embraces all that they are, instead of prescribing what they should be? The Rise Of The African Queer (TROTAQ) brings those soul-searching discussions to life through the collaboration of African and German artists in a multi-disciplinary piece, with Kieron Jina at the helm.

Jina is an internationally recognized performance artist who has traveled the world sharing a multi-disciplinary approach to queer expression, pushing more dynamic conversations about the state of the queer body in the world. The African Queer body to specific. TROTAQ encompasses intricate and elaborate costume designs that span a spectrum of color, patterns and texture; and the haunting, powerful vocals of performance artist Anelisa ‘Annalyzer’ Stuurman, which layered, chopped and screwed by sound engineer and performer Yogin Sullephan, who joins Jina and Annalyzer on stage.

TROTAQ was recently performed as a part of the Dance Umbrella Festival hosted by the State Theatre in Pretoria, South Africa. Jina invited AFROPUNK to witness the creation of new deities through a mammoth collaboration involving nine artists who came together to redefine higher a higher power with a deliberate sense of artistry that troubles traditional understanding of the sonic, visual and narrative landscapes. After which, the three principals of TROTAQ sat down to talk with AFROPUNK about their work.

How was The Rise Of The African Queer born?

Kieron Jina: I remember sitting recently at “Bare Stories” [a Johannesburg event series, space and platform for LGBTQI+ people to tell their stories] at Constitution Hill. One of the co-founders, Kgosi Motsoane was reflecting on longing for a role model when he was growing up, someone who mirrored his lived experience but could show him that he would find his place in the world. That particular “Bare” session was a seminal moment for him because it involved his role-model, Justice Edwin Cameron. Kgosi spoke about how proud he was to still have a moment such as this one, to meet his role model, a person who has fought for the injustices against LGBTIQ+ people, and has become a symbol of empowerment and liberation to many young queer people in South Africa and Africa as a whole.

What was it about this world that prompted you to create a new one with a newly envisioned deity?

KJ: I grew up in the kind of world that excludes free, open-minded and imaginative thinking about the world we chose to create and live within. Looking back at my childhood, we were not exposed to queer role models or deities. I found myself searching for a spiritual connection that also aligned with my evolving identity and ideologies. The Western God I was introduced to was always a displeased, white, straight man who didn’t like how I felt myself to be, or who I am. My journey to find a deity or a demigod that looked like me — and maybe sometimes even thought about me — is what inspired this project.

Where did you find your inspiration for the essence of this new deity?

KJ: I began by looking at ancient African methodologies and histories that one can not only locate on the Internet, as these archives have been destroyed or retold through a colonial gaze. There is seemingly a lack of queer people of color who have been documented, archived and represented, let alone those that represent some kind of human empowerment or actualization. I found that there is a lack of accessibility for any interested person to discover and make meaning from what has been documented in the past. This left a void within me, within the history of my Queerness, so I started using creative tools within performance, video and photography to experiment. I wanted to fill the void by creating my own Queer role-model or deity, a figure that gave hope and understanding against the stained world of binaries.

What were you looking for with the deity?

KJ: I was looking for something or someone to represent me as a Queer person of colour. A process of unlearning the information that was taught to me.

Kieron and Annalyzer, as the two main performers, where do you draw personal inspiration when bringing the piece to life?

KJ: It’s a bit of fantasy, world-dreaming that bleeds into a more positive through-line of how we see our bodies in the future. A lot of it also has to do with us being superheroes and demigods — how do we create superheroes that have African stories? When we look on the Internet, we don’t see these stories. We can research them but it’s so difficult to find information around African mythology — it’s almost non-existent. It’s also because of the colonial perspective and the colonial gaze on how we choose to narrate these stories. So now if we choose to make our own…

Annalyzer: My place as a performer in this collaboration is to remind our people that we have elders and legends that are still at home. Besides going back to the Internet — something [we] have never had before — we still have our elders around us, and with that, we can create our own narratives, our own stories the way we want them. So we can go out there and remember where we come from. Because things are evolving, we are so privileged that we still have abantu abadala (elders). Let’s think about what we were taught before and put it in our narrative and decide the way we want to tell it.

How has the reality of queer existence given the community the resources to turn its otherness into a superpower?

KJ: The heteronormative gaze always wears a frown at those that dare to challenge the status quo, or those that have the courage to build their own norms. Queer bodies have always been seen as ‘other’, anything that is different from the norm is seen as negative. It is also within that othering that we begin to imagine a new way for queer people to exist that isn’t necessarily aligned to the hetero-norm. Who knows? 200 years from now it might be queer people that abolish patriarchy and liberate even those who identify as heterosexual; perhaps queer people might even dare to abolish gender as a whole, which might liberate heterosexuals from the confines and prisons of the genders they created, imposed on themselves and oppressed us with. That is the type of positive change we’re imagining, that is the type of catalyst I imagine queerness to be.

Is there a message being communicated outward, outside of the Queer community, with this piece?

KJ: Like any other minority group in the world, the lens of the world is scrutinizing Queer people, we must be more patient than they are, more compassionate, because their privilege and power afford the heterosexual world the convenience of impatience, indignation, superiority and non-compassion. We must always express the best versions of ourselves, even our flaws must appear to be desirable, then once they begin to desire us, we must then engage them, ask them why they want our pain, why it looks good to them, why can they not claim their own pain? Why do they paint their skin black? Why do they only sexualize us in the dark? Why do they hold onto the fetish as opposed to seeing us as equal to them? Why can’t they recognize our expressions as another way of existing? These are the questions we must present, we don’t need an answer from them. We won’t stop building our world. Our job is to own every single sinew, follicle and second of our narratives.

What characteristic, in each of these artists, inspired you to work with them to bring this new world to life?

KJ: The artists that I choose to work with are extremely talented, and I hold them in high regard in terms of how they build their art form or contribute to a conversation. They also provide an opportunity for people to see that these kinds of formations can exist. Yogen comes with a unique energy of composition that is mixed with traditional aspects. Annalyzer is grounded, and her approach to identity makes so much sense for me to work with a person like her. You think you’re gaining something by working with her but what you gain is knowledge that they bring on how to produce art work. I’ve worked with Yogin Sullaphen for 10 years and with Annalyzer for three years. Annalyzer and I have another show together called “Pink Money,” exploring queer politics and relationships to art-forms, by talking about travel, tourism and music through the construct of nightclub life and the implications. It is inspired by the experience of being an African in Europe, and what that means now.

Joni Barnard has been good friend and collaborator that I have known for nine years. We’ve made many shows together, and I trust her opinion as an outside eye (as a dramaturg, linking the work together). Tobias Purfürst was also a part of the collaboration, bringing a more sonic, electronic sound to the work. Wilhelm Disbergen is on lighting and has been in the repertory for some time. He’s always wanted to work on something Queer-related. Sean Mongie and Shalom Mushwana are on film and working with us on the video. They’ll be shooting on the night. So, it’s a close-knit team of different artists that can relate to the subject matter.

What are the conversations related to Queer identity that explore what it means to be Queer, in relation to what it means to be Queer in Africa and what kind of narrative can we produce for ourselves that is not only about trauma? But instead, creating something that places our bodies in the echelon of demigod, so we can see ourselves that way. How do we start shaping our own narratives? Because we are saturated with so much information, how do we make it our own?

Yogin Sullephan dresses up in a full monochromatic jumpsuit while controlling the soundscape of the performance.

Yogin, you’re largely responsible for the sonic landscape in the piece, bringing together disparate and transformed sound with Annalyzer’s vocal prowess. What does that process entail?

Yogin Sullaphen: In experimental performance theater, music really plays a large role. There are words, but it all fits into this vague space we get to play in. It adds an emotional element you know It’s all about feelings and it also creates a rhythm that we work off and they () work off. At the same time, it’s also a collaboration. I’m always communicating with Kieron; figuring out the sounds he wants because we also use a lot of sound design. So we explore what sounds we could use and why we want the sound and what it means. It’s a lot about taking sounds found naturally and turning them into something unrecognizable. If I’m distorting a guitar sound, for instance, it carried less of its recognizable historical significance and becomes something new.

Annalyzer, you’re proudly Xhosa and there’s Xhosa in the piece. Indigenous languages don’t account for gender, so when approaching the show and following the urge to include your language, was that something that crossed your mind?

Annalyzer: Within my interpretation as an artist from Easter Cape influenced by tradition, by all forms of culture, especially when Amahlubi (clans) are there. AmaXhosa, AmaZulu, AmaSotho are there.

My identifying as a lesbian was really hard. I had to adjust as a person first. As a young, lesbian, butch, Black girl. I had to adapt and understand that this is cultural, and no matter what, you’re still going to be influenced by the ways of culture. As I was developing my art, I thought, “let me tell my story” you know. The things that have influenced me and suffocated me in terms of expressing myself. Things that I still carry, that I still have to fight and unleash. IsiXhosa is one of the narratives I use in my artistry to express who I am, and what challenges I went through as a Black Xhosa woman in the Eastern Cape, who was an artist that wanted to go abstract. I refused to conform the way they wanted me to. So isiXhosa tells the story of who Annalyzer is because, within it, from my own people, I experienced patriarchal situations. I experienced racism and homophobia so it’s also important to highlight that, no matter how beautiful isiXhosa is, it can also be ugly. It’s about the bigger picture and the deeper connection. It was an entryway to express who I was as an artist inside The Rise Of The African Queer.

Speaking to the world-building project that is TROTAQ, Kieron, would you mind sharing what you found in each artist that you thought would elevate the concept and bring it closer to your ultimate vision?

KJ: I think each person has their own ability to renegotiate what collaboration means. In our particular time, art of this nature doesn’t always get financial support; it’s rare to hear these kinds of narratives unless you’re doing big commercial stuff that gets a lot of money or the system of nepotism that creates system of “this person is great to work with and they have the repertoire and access”.

Would you mind explaining the origin of the phrase “My Queer Body Is Not An Apology” that is shown at the end of the performance?

KJ: “My Queer African body is not an apology!” was inspired by Sonya Renee Taylor who wrote a book entitled The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. This book has opened so many pathways to better understand myself within a contemporary world. I chose to create art that disrupts and evokes questioning of the way we choose to exist in this world.


Kieron Jina – @afrohomo

Anelisa Stuurman AKA Annalyzer – @annalyzer_sa

Yogin Sullaphen – @yogsip

Tobias Purfürst AKA Akrobat – @_akrobat

Roman Handt – @roman_handt

Sean Mongie – @seanmongie

Joni Barnard – @phayafly

Shalom Mushwana – @shalom_mushwana

Negiste Yesside Johnson – @negiste.yesside

Wilhelm Disbergen – @wildis220

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana

Jamal Nxedlana