Sabelo Mlangeni: Country Girls
November 10 – December 16, 2012
Curated by Carrie Schneider
Informal walk-through of the exhibition with Carrie Schneider and Antawan I. Byrd, Doctoral Student in Contemporary African Art at Northwestern University and former Curatorial Assistant at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday, November 10 at 6:30 PM
Iceberg Projects is pleased to present Country Girls, the first US solo exhibition for South African artist Sabelo Mlangeni (born 1980 Driefontein, South Africa, lives Johannesburg), only the third showing of his work in the US, and the first in Chicago. Country Girls is an intimate portrait of gay life in rural South Africa, with the photographs—31 silver gelatin prints shot by Mlangeni over the course of six years (2003–2009)—acting as records of expressions of queerness in a generally repressive environment.
Country Girls is set against a backdrop of dusty villages not far from Mlangeni’s own hometown in Mpumalanga province. In the exhibition catalog Graeme Reid, lecturer in LGBT Studies at Yale University writes:
Mlangeni took the photographs in small towns and rural areas in the Mpumalanga province: Driefontein, Ermelo, Bethal, Piet Retief, Standerton and Sekunda—nodes of mining, agriculture, forestry, and coal-fed power stations. These can be bleak environments where, by and large, township life is rough and poor. But there is also glamour here. Mlanageni brings us images of drag queens, hairstylists at work and beauty pageant contestants parading in an unadorned municipal hall. These are scenes of aspiration, of making do, fashioning a dream from what is available. Fashion and gay life go hand in hand in Mpumalanga. In fact it is not uncommon to hear of gay lifestyles referred to, with some disapproval, as ‘a fashion’, a modern phenomenon. To some, gays are seen as un-African, un-Christian or the unfortunate by-product of a liberal constitution. But, as the photographs vividly demonstrate, this is only a small part of the story…