Written by Siliziwe Mapalala
“Who taught you to love queer?”
This is one of the questions Jesse Khoi Goosen directs to my wife and I as DeLovie Kwagala a.k.a. Papa De is standing behind the camera capturing our images. Ask a cis-het person how they learned to love, and the answer is easy if not a bit cliche;
“My parents were high school sweethearts…” or “I grew up surrounded by love,” and even “I watched Grey’s Anatomy and knew I wanted a love like Meredith and Derick’s” or replace with a Gen Z reference (I’m giving away my age here).
But for us queers, especially in Africa, we are often our own first and only example of queer love. Jesse stated pointedly what we can all relate to, which is that we don’t have the access of calling our mom for dating advice, and even our friends may not know the way as we are all getting first-hand experience in navigating love. And this is part of the motivation that inspired Arq.Collective to embark on the task of documenting queer African love stories, to show our community and the world at large that love takes multiple forms and it is all beautiful. As Papa De put so eloquently, “I want to represent what I have not received”.
The founders and creators behind the Arq.Collective are Jesse Khoi Goosen (@jessekhoitheartist); who is the founder, project curator, activist, visual artist and filmmaker from South Africa, DeLovie (Papa De) Kwagala (@aconstantbecoming); who is the visual director, photographer and activist from Uganda, and Keith Black Vries (@keith_connect), who is the textual director, writer, journalist and activist from Namibia. They have come together to collaborate on a showcase of queer love, these stories being shared by queers and for queers.
They are in the process of gathering our stories – of love won and lost, of marriage and divorce, of monogamy and polyamory, inside and outside of the lines, all the diversity of queer love – by way of interviews (conducted by Jesse) which are filmed, sensual images captured by Papa De, and textual writing by Keith. The goal is to create an exhibition, both physically as well as digitally (for a larger reach) of the captured art. The physical exhibition aims to engage the senses; from touch, smell, sight and the mind. One should walk away having been moved, and to actively participate in the art. Jesse also emphasised the importance of having the work exhibited digitally on free social media platforms, as the whole goal is to promote inclusivity as well as get a global reach.
When asked who the audience is, Jesse and Papa De answered in unison that the audience is the world. They are documenting queer African stories, not just for our community, but for the world at large to see the beauty in our love and to counter the narratives that exist – that queerness is evil or impure. What makes this initiative not only beautiful but of historic significance for our community, is the current backdrop of our continent Africa. Queerness has been made into a political and religious talking point, as opposed to what it really is one of human rights and the human condition. “The aim of Arq.Collective is the humanisation of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Though the South African constitution is one of the most liberal, our culture, politics and religion are still darkened by homophobia and transphobia, and this is not even addressing the continent at large. It is of paramount importance for our people to not only focus on the persecution of queer folks, but to also witness that there is hope and in fact pure joy in living and loving queer.
The first phase of the project (which is already in motion) is the collection of queer love stories, but as the project gains traction and support the team looks forward to expanding. One of the goals post exhibit is to make available an app which would expand on the archive of stories, by being a platform where people can access and share their queer love stories. Jesse also mentioned a parallel project still in ideation where he and Keith want to focus on a project titled “Give them their flowers”, which aims to spotlight those in the queer space who are our fallen heroes, emphasising that their lives were not in vain.
So with that said, how can we support Arq.Collective and the artists doing the activist work of sharing our love stories? You can engage with the content in Instagram @arq_collective.
Arq.Collective also has a crowdfunding page on BackaBuddy (https://www.backabuddy.co.za/charity/profile/jesse-goosen-arts-5445009255814640637?fbclid=PAAab0P4FhhCWW6Rw8244cy1WRHOzSP1IoABK-zR3f1ox10TRv2A6V1tsE1_U) where any and all donations will go a long way. Arq.Collective is also reaching out for corporate sponsorship to enable the exhibition of the art. Should you be interested in participating by sharing your story of love, you can reach out on instagram (@arq_collective) or by email at email@example.com. Here is to supporting those creating more space for queer love.