For the FNB Joburg Art Fair, Robert A. Hamblin presents a video installation which is part of the InterseXion body of photographic works. The theme of the works pertains to sex work in South Africa, in particular, transgender women (male to female) who sell sex. The full exhibition is traveling to various museum spaces in 2017.
The greater body of work unfolds in three parts; The Sistaaz Hood, Diamond Town Girls, and InterseXion. Through this thought provoking and compelling exhibition, Hamblin joins an active and ongoing debate around the necessity for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa and the socio-political issues surrounding individuals in this industry. Within this context, transgender women are described as the most vulnerable populations. Hamblin engages the subject from multiple perspectives by working with transgender women in a city and a rural area. He also goes further by pertinently juxtaposing himself, a privileged male trans person (female to male), to his subjects, conceptually and physically. Through this, the artwork acts as a lens to engage with issues of both poverty and sex work in society and with the classes who view this issue from afar. (See exhibition catalogue here)
In the video installation presented at the FNB Joburg Art Fair, the lens is turned pointedly at Hamblin, his body next to that of Leigh Davids, a member of The Sistaaz Hood support group. The imagery serves as an exploration of their friendship and the social constructs that cause barriers between them - race, class, gender.
“I am an artist. Leigh Davids is my friend. She is a sex worker. I live in a house in suburbia. Often she lives under a make shift tent outside. What we have in common is transgender bodies. When my neighbours look at me they have no clue as to my past. I have had medical access to transition from female to male. Many ofLeigh’s neighbours curse her, call out slurs at her. Her body mostly hides her feminine identity. In this video artwork we present our bodies together, prostate under a membrane similar to the one she often sleeps under. It is one of the things we have done, to be together. We are exploring ways and finding lenses to understand the systems we live in that keep our worlds in disparate states in a post-apartheid South Africa.” - Robert A. Hamblin
“You have poor trans* people living in communities on the streets and you have white rich transpeople and they live at home” - Leigh Davids
In this video, Davids narrates her experience of her gendered body, her familial history and the relationship she has to Hamblin. Hamblin’s identity as a middle-class person who has undergone medical gender transition is juxtaposed to David’s multiple depicted identities, that of a Muslim male, trans woman, and sex worker. For David’s survival strategies have her within her vacillate identities – male, female, sex worker – empowerment and disempowered weaving through these lived realities. Hamblin’s only shift becomes in reference to David’s when he is disrobed and implicated as a client or lover.
At this point the video work becomes more intimate, suggesting a personal relationship between Davids and himself. Her trans visibility is clear; she has to rotate constantly between her lived identity and society’s assigned identity. She is a person who has no access to medical treatment. Hamblin’s trans experience is invisible, his presentation stable. He has protection as a middle-class person.
Transitioning gender acts as a lens in this work and points to the impacts of poverty and privilege in such a journey.
“The intersection of our lives and the juxtaposition of our bodies bring together a unique story, but we both agree (Davids and me) that this junction has universal symbolism. It offers a vantage point to discuss how poverty and gender inequality weaves across a human body and life in disparate ways. I am privileged; born that way, and therefore sustaining that was a natural result. I am safe, stable. She never is.” - Robert A. Hamblin