In his latest exhibition, interseXion - the art of advocacy, Robert Hamblin uses multimedia aspects to depict his own gender transition with the experiences of black transgender sex workers in Cape Town and Kimberley. The work includes photographs, video and sound installations.
The installations are on display at the Iziko South African National Gallery in association with the Lizamore & Associates Gallery in Johannesburg.
Hamblin started documenting sex workers after a stint volunteering with the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) organisation.
“In 2009 I began volunteering with Sweat and at that point the organisation had no support for transgender sex workers, so I set up The Sistaaz Hood group for the main reason of advocating for them.
“Once they found out that I was an artist, they asked me if I could document them and some of the things we explored were, what does identity and your body mean when it is incongruent with society?” said Hamblin.
He worked with Leigh Davids, a sex work activist, on the exhibition and the pair set out to interview trans sex work activists where they contributed their views to the debate around the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa.
The exhibition was developed over five years.
In this exhibition, Hamblin and Davids juxtapose their clothed and naked trans bodies in an effort to present the disparities that remain between people in post-apartheid South Africa.
Hamblin first met Davids in 2012 while working with Sweat, and Davids would go to Kimberley to form a support group called the Diamond Town Girls.
One of the outstanding aspects of the exhibition is the sound installation, Talk on the Yellow Line, named because outdoor sex workers operate in that space.
The edited recorded voices detail intimate interviews with Hamblin, Davids and members of The Sistaaz Hood and Diamond Town Girls support groups.
He said some of the answers that came out of these interviews dealt with children being bullied during their teenage years, running away from home and ending up in the underworld of drugs, crime and sex work.
Hamblin said a recurring theme was the endless abuse of power by the police.
Iziko Museums will host events throughout the exhibition’s run at the gallery, including a walkabout of the exhibition with sex workers on Freedom Day, April 27, and an event on Workers’ Day, May 1, to highlight that sex workers are also part of the labour force.
The exhibition will be on display until August 26.