Over 13 years the annual Mother City Queer Project (MCQP) parties have occupied a unique space in gay and lesbian life in South Africa. They straddle a fine line between the political and the frivolous.
MCPQ, first created by Andre Vorster, and now helmed by a mixed group of owners, has carved out a unique space for sexual identity – through play on a massive scale; the themed costume parties often draw revellers in their thousands.
Now a hardcover large-format coffee table book, titled FAB, has been released to commemorate all those years of outrageous excess in the name of sexual polymorphism. Compiled by playwright Karen Jeynes with gorgeous photographs – mostly by photojournalist Eric Miller – it’s a handsome keepsake. And one that adds significantly to the documenting of South African gay and lesbian life.
According to Jeynes, who first suggested the book to the publishers, “I felt it important that MCQP get a longer standing memorial than the annual newspaper articles. I think this is something really beautiful.”
Interestingly, she justifies the 144 page book more on spectacle than on its cultural importance, adding that, “The enormous efforts of the organisers and above all the attendees make it an unparalleled spectacle. Add to that it’s the largest party of its kind in Africa, attracts thousands of people from all over the world… I think it’s worth a book!”
While FAB includes text, such as interviews, short personal essays and even snippets from blogs, it is the photography that dominates; from images of religious protestors, the party in full psychedelic swing, all manner of people, costumes and themes, to the aftermath of drug and alcohol addled partygoers facing the early morning sun.
The images are saturated with rich colour, stories, moments and meaning – in some ways making the writing irrelevant and at times even irritating. The photography alone could have told the story – which is nevertheless presented in a somewhat unstructured way.
Jeynes says that she hoped to receive more images from partygoers themselves, but in the end the vast majority were provided by seven photographers.
When it came to selecting the thousands of available images, she explains that the main criterion was that the individual pictures needed to add something more to the whole. “They needed to give voice to the themes, the subtexts, and work together,” she says, giving credit to Marius Roux’s layout for “creating dialogue and flow between the images.”
The fact that Jeynes, a straight woman, took on the task of compiling a book about an event claimed as its own by queer culture, has been seen as evidence of some kind of commercialising and mainstreaming of the MCQP event. While she curtly comments that her sexuality doesn’t “make any difference,” she does admit that the issue is a complex one:
“How do you define queerness and commercialism? Many people I interviewed expressed opinions on this, and they were all divided. I think the overwhelming feeling though was that the party is on a journey – it can’t be kept small and elite, and people who want to go will go.”
She then makes an interesting point – one that in essence asserts that we need to take ownership of our own culture. “I think if people are vociferous enough about what they want, it will work out that way. The one thing I really felt after all the interviews was that the party does belong to the partygoers. They must own it.”
FAB is published by Umuzi and sells at a recommended retail price of R355. MCQP takes place on 22 December. Visit the website for more information.