The title Isivumelwano comes from Nguni, a group of languages (to which Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swati also belong) that is spoken in several different Southern African countries. The word means ‘contract’, ‘agreement’ or ‘alliance’, and here it is synonymous with the marriage ceremonies in Black communities that Mlangeni documented in southern Africa. In a series of 70 hand-printed images, which have never been shown before, the viewer is invited to join almost as many ceremonies, very diverse in nature. Lovingly depicted couples who do not conform to heteronormative standards, local populations, and cultural traditions all challenge traditional notions of the ‘white wedding’.
Isivumelwano is both a celebration and a critique of the relationships we maintain with others. According to Mlangeni, the project magnifies ‘the systems we exist in (and against)’. This critical note is not immediately apparent in Mlangeni’s images, however; the history of cruelty and injustice is hidden behind a ceremonial veil. The foreground is deliberately given to the strongest antidote to hate and violence: love. ‘As the American author, feminist, and social activist Bell Hooks understood, expressing love to one another is the ultimate practice of freedom,’ writes the art critic Emmanuel Balogun in relation to the work. Mlangeni uses his camera to capture special, intimate moments during wedding ceremonies. By bringing these moments together in a series, Balogun suggests the images become more than just a documentation of the rituals: ‘The camera’s intervention magnifies the ritual of love as a formal act that drives cultures from subjugation to celebration. As a political unifier, the contract – love – becomes a force of liberation.’
- Sabelo Mlangeni
- 120 pages
- 22 x 28,5 cm
- full color
- Texts by Emmanuel Balogun, Athi Mongezeleli Joja, Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni, Tshepiso Mazibuko
- Design by Hans Gremmen