Must-see exhibit ‘Layers of a Black Transgender Woman’

In many African countries, acceptance of the transgender community barely exists. It’s no surprise that discourse on LGBTQ+ issues is still a big taboo. So when Lethlogonolo Machaba made it as a Miss South Africa Top 30 finalist, it signaled a refreshing growth and much-needed validation to the representation of transgender women. 

Transgender women were first given the green light to apply for the pageant in 2019. Women entering the renowned event are not required to disclose their trans identity, and it wasn’t until this year that the first openly transgender woman entered and was a finalist.

Image: Instagram (@lehlogonolo.machaba

Albeit having not made it further in the pageant, the beauty queen took advantage of the recognition. Together with reality TV stars Yaya Mavundla and Tholang Motsumi, the trio fronted an exhibition showcasing black transgender women.

The exhibition titled Layers Of a Black Transgender Woman is aimed at addressing issues faced by trans women and is curated by Mavundla, an award-winning transgender activist.

The trio; Machaba (Left), Tholang Motsumi (Center), and Yaya Mavundla (Right)

Speaking to Sowetan, Machaba said that the exhibition would finally give transgender women the opportunity to showcase their incredible talents, including the crew behind the scenes. “What I love about this exhibition is that it has given trans people a chance to showcase their talents and not just their faces. The makeup artist and director identifies themselves as trans women. Other crew members are part of the LGBTQI community,” said Machaba.

“This means that as trans individuals we are moving forward as a community. In the past few years, we have been bottom of the food chain, but we are now channeling our inner power and showing the world that we do exist.

“We have been marginalized from opportunities, but now it’s about time people know our existence and what we are capable of.”

Layers Of a Black Transgender Woman features images taken by photographer Thembela Terra Dick that were then illustrated by Nigerian illustrator Chukwude Udoye.

“This is to address issues of black transgender women in SA in a form of art and create space for inclusion and further say transgender women are women and it is important to get that message across during Women’s Month,” Mavundla said.

The exhibition is running currently until 14 September at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The importance of this exhibition also lies in its educational intent. Aside from the exhibition itself, Yaya Mavundla has hosted weekly dialogues with the media, and various government departments on the topics of pronouns, inclusivity, and gender identity.

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