Bart Luirink

DeLovie Kwagala’s gaze through the cracks

DeLovie Kwagala is the winner of this year’s East African Photography Award. His series Through the Cracks depict intimate partner violence in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Kwagala is a non-binary, queer, self-taught photographer and social activist from Kampala, Uganda, and currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. In their words: ‘A queer project to be winning means the world to me. It means that our stories are finally being heard and our voices are finally being given a platform that we so very much deserve. My project is about intimate partner violence, which is a huge issue ravaging through the queer community. I hope that by highlighting and acknowledging the importance and urgency of this issue to the community that we will be able to source out resources to go to people who need support the most and create a platform to speak about it and be heard. We need to act now.’

Kwagala is not the only winner from the African continent. There are also recently awarded writers David Diop (International Booker Prize), Abdulrazak Gurnah (Nobel Prize for Literature), Boubacar Boris Diop (Neustads Prize), Mohamed Mbougar Sarr (Goncourt), Tsitsi Dangarembga (PEN Pinter Prize), Paulina Chiziane (Camões Prize) and Damon Galgut (Booker Prize).

This is the irony. The works of all these creatives confront viewers and readers with often deeply disturbing realities, with hardship and despair. But they also show compelling imagination, thorough understanding and tempting attraction. They do not need to be given a voice, as many philanthropists and saviours still preach. Their free voices are heard, more and more. By telling their stories they open up our minds and empower all who feel a desire for change.

“My dad kicked me out once he found out that I was Trans. I ended up at a shelter which I then left for various reasons. I moved in with my then boyfriend. Things were going well until he started to abuse me constantly. The last straw came when he assumed I was cheating on him and attacked me with a knife and sliced my face. Sad thing is, I couldn’t report him to the police because of the limitations that we as transgenders face in this country.” MISSY*

“The person who I’m dating thinks he is doing me a favour, and maybe he is right- being single is tough and as a trans person, no one really cares about us. He will remind me how he feeds and houses me daily. I don't have a voice around him. But he is also very big and muscular so I have learnt to just do what he wants so I don’t get beat up.” CYRUS*

“I feel like with heterosexuals, there is no hiding so it's easier to talk to family about what you’re going through. I don’t have that privilege. And he uses it to his advantage. I can’t go to the police either because they will end up throwing me in jail. I often think about leaving, but then to who? We are a very small, illegal community.” STEVE*

“You know, because gender-based violence is often associated with heterosexuality, I didn’t know I was being abused until the damage had been done. For the longest time, he said this was another kind of love that he was teaching me. I believed him and ended up expecting it all the time. In the pandemic, forceful sex became a part of it whenever he pleased. I got this scar while resisting his other friend he had brought along to hit me.” PEARL*

“My story is a painful one to talk about as it takes me back to a dark place and I’m honestly not ready. I was so blinded by love that I lost a lot of friends, and went into a state of depression from all the self-body hate that he inflicted on me from comments about my looks and weight. My only hope is if we had support and a way to hold them accountable because in the end, we are human too. No one deserves to be treated as less. If the government could let us be, these men won’t feel as powerful as they feel now.” MALAIKA*

“I love my boyfriend. So much. But because he also knows I love him, he treats me so badly. Sometimes he comes back from work and beats me up really bad for no reason. I take it because I don’t have a choice. I don't have anywhere to go because even when I meet my brother on the side of the road, he acts like he doesn't know me because ‘I’m a gay disgrace’ in his words. So I stay. Just like I stayed in my previous relationship till I lost a finger. It is what it is.” CELINE*

“When you lead a life like mine, you have to choose your own battles correctly because you know deep down you have no support. Many of us went and stayed with men we didn’t know much during the pandemic because it was survival over anything. I was raped daily and forced to do ugly things and I couldn’t even talk to anyone because at the end of the day, I was fed.” ALICE*

“Being the feminine one, I have to submit to my man. Whatever he wants, he is the man. I can’t deny him his rights. At the end of the day, he still loves me and that’s what matters.” RENAH*

“I think at this point I have internalized violence to be a part of my love life. I have not been with anyone who has not abused me. It sucks but I can't fight back because I know I can’t win. It has gotten worse in the pandemic but there is no one to talk to. I have heard about therapy but it's really expensive. I have accepted my fate.” LARYN*

“This is a very hard position to be in. First, we don't really have support centres to help us process and get support for being victims of intimate partner violence in our community. Some of us who have tried to share, and we have been alienated and stigmatized but this is a real problem that we can’t choose to keep ignoring. We need platforms like this to speak up.” MAYA*

*The names of my collaborators have been changed to protect them.