Joburg exhibition explores LGBTI “journeys of faith”


Imam Muhsin Hendricks (Pic: GALA)

A new exhibition about LGBTI people’s struggles with religion and spirituality is set to open at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

Presented by Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA), Journeys of Faith – Navigating Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity will be on display at the museum from the end of February.

The fifteen-panel exhibition brings together narratives from all five major world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – as well as from practitioners of traditional African belief systems.

Its stories are drawn from both those who continue to practise their faith and those who have chosen another path, as well as from faith-based leaders known for running inclusive and accepting places of worship.

“Many LGBTI people are excluded from religious spaces, either because of direct discrimination or because they are exposed to messages of intolerance and hate,” explains GALA director Anthony Manion.

“This exhibition is about challenging people’s perceptions of religion and, hopefully, encouraging visitors to reflect on the common thread linking all faiths – love.”

Journeys of Faith reaches beyond the realm of dogma and, in doing so, offers a different perspective on what it means to be spiritual in contemporary South Africa.

“The exhibition reflects the diversity of South Africa,” says Linda Chernis, one of the exhibition’s curators.

Rev. Nokuthula Dhladhla (Pic: GALA)

Rev. Nokuthula Dhladhla (Pic: GALA)

“We intentionally sought out stories from a wide range of people to show how different individuals have negotiated issues of sexuality and gender identity within spiritual spaces. We also wanted to capture both the positive and negative, and to show that religion and diversity do not have to be in conflict.”

The exhibition’s personal narratives and striking portraits add a unique humanness to the fierce debate around the position of sexual and gender diversity within religion. The exhibition reminds viewers that such debates affect real people – people who wish to freely practice their faith, and to live and love in peace.

“When my church found out about my sexuality, I was hounded in such a way that I thought God did not exist … They said [my sexuality] was an abomination, evil,” reflects Rev. Nokuthula Dhladhla, one of the religious leaders profiled in the exhibition.

While pain and rejection weave through many of the narratives, these are not the overarching themes of the exhibition. Journeys of Faith is also about the love and acceptance that LGBTI people have found, sometimes in traditional religious spaces but also in their own ways.

Imam Muhsin Hendricks, another religious leader profiled in the exhibition, is the founder of the Inner Circle, a “human rights organisation that works within an Islamic framework”.

Fired Methodist Minister Ecclesia De Lange is also featured in the exhibition

Fired Methodist Minister Ecclesia De Lange is also featured in the exhibition (Pic: GALA)

“We believe in interpreting the Quran in a way that brings healing and mercy to people rather than guilt and shame,’ Imam Hendricks says in his story. Though this view may be seen as unorthodox by some, it has helped to provide peace of mind to many LGBTI Muslims.

Rev. Dhladhla and Imam Hendricks’ stories are just two of the deeply moving accounts captured in this exhibition, the first of its kind in South Africa.

Journeys of Faith will be officially opened on 27 February and will be on display for four months in the Round Room at the Apartheid Museum.

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