Yaya Mavundla: Disrupting transgender erasure through art

Yaya Mavundla is one of South Africa's most visible transgender figures

Activist, fashion entrepreneur, reality TV star, and now artist, Yaya Mavundla is one of South Africa’s most visible transgender figures. (Photos: Miles Majestic)

In celebration of Women’s Month in South Africa, transgender activist Yaya Mavundla is set to disrupt erasure and amplify the voices of transgender women through her first exhibition, Black, Trans & Bold.

This showcase of art and transgender bravery, boldness, resilience, and excellence will grace the historical Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, from August 9th to August 31st, 2023.

A trailblazing activist’s message through art

Mavundla, an award-winning transgender activist, fashion entrepreneur, reality TV star, disruptor and multidisciplinary artist, is renowned for her unyielding dedication to advocating for transgender rights. She recently captured the spotlight internationally, with her images adorning billboards in Switzerland as part of Zanele Muholi’s exhibition.

Now, she returns to her homeland to present her debut solo exhibition of paintings that convey a powerful message of resilience, strength, and identity.

Elevating transgender stories

Black, Trans & Bold draws its inspiration from Mavundla’s own transformative journey. As an openly transgender woman, she knows firsthand the challenges faced by members of the transgender community in South Africa, many of whom unwillingly end up in sex work, abusive relationships, and odd jobs for survival.

“I survived a lot, I survived death, I survived depression and mostly I survived losing me. I nearly gave up my passion for doing great things that I do now because there were no opportunities for someone like me,” says Mavundla.

The exhibition stands as a statement against the erasure and marginalisation of transgender women’s experiences. Through her paintings, Mavundla aims to illuminate the strength and determination that define transgender women’s lives.

Yaya Mavundla’s work is bold, striking and unapologetic

Confronting oppression and celebrating triumphs

Mavundla’s artwork derives from historical images, serving as a testament to the battles faced by transgender women against systemic oppression. In a country where many transgender women struggle for employment and opportunities, Mavundla’s journey reflects the resilience required to overcome adversity.

“I grew up in an environment where there was no one like me, growing up in the deep areas of KwaZulu-Natal in Kranskop there was no transgender person or openly queer person I could reference,” she says.

Her personal experiences, including a period of homelessness, have fueled her commitment to raising awareness and fostering a sense of belonging within the transgender community.

“For many years I doubted my beauty and my strength, I believed I was not beautiful and worthy, people around me made me feel I was never good enough and I was less worthy than the other people, even compared to transgender women and queer people around me,” says Mavundla.

A call for transgender visibility and empowerment

At the core of Mavundla’s activism lies the imperative of transgender visibility. She passionately believes that a visible transgender community is crucial for catalysing societal change.

By shedding light on the challenges faced by transgender individuals, she hopes to initiate a transformation that leads to improved access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. Mavundla envisions a South Africa where transgender individuals are seen, heard, and treated as equals.

“With this exhibition I am reflecting, finding strength and healing, I am looking at how far I have come and I am proud of the woman I have built in a world that has no structure for me to build from. I want with this exhibition – all those trans women who have doubts – that they can know it is possible, they are beautiful, worthy and enough.”

A proud reflection and hopeful future

Black, Trans & Bold is not just an exhibition; it’s a testament to the strength and resilience of transgender women. With her paintings, Yaya Mavundla encourages transgender individuals to embrace their beauty, strength, and worth, reminding them that they are more than enough.

Black, Trans & Bold opens on 9 August 2023 and closes on 31 August 2023 at the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg.

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