Taking pictures of the LGBTQ + community of freedom photographing the West African Sea
Photographer Pauliana Valente Pimentel attended the artist residency in 2014 when she first met members of the local LGBT community in Mindelo. This port city, located on the north side of São Vicente Island, is located about 838 kilometers from Senegal in a horseshoe-shaped volcanic cluster and in the Cape Verde country.
Compared to the harsh mentality of its West African neighbors, the island state is significantly more disposed to non-binary and gay people. Although same-sex marriage is not recognized, same-sex sexual behavior was legalized in 2004, placing the Cape Verde region at the forefront of progressive gender legislation. Homosexuality is illegal in 37 continents, including four, where reckless intimacy can lead to death. Even within the archipelago, the island of São Vicente is, according to the photographer, an exception. “On the main island of Santiago, you would not see this group. They would be beaten, ”he warns.
Valente, based in Lisbon, Portugal, attributes this tolerance to the small size of the island - which makes for inevitable proximity - but also to the key role of LGBT people in celebrating the city; Carnival. "The gay community is used to making costumes and performing at a parade" & nbsp; so the islanders got used to it. " Homosexuals and transgender people are still considered "weird", but their mere presence does not necessarily lead to violent reactions from others. the islanders.
When the photographer first met him, Steffy seemed extremely confident and ready for the 19-year-old. He was a devoted and proud gay boy who wore makeup every day and liked to dress in satin dresses and high heels with his friends - a close group of young trans women, gays and non-genders. "I think they are strong because they are together," Valente notes, adding that shortly thereafter he began to document their lives.
"(Steffy's) mother was so proud of him (and) that he would let him take all his friends home," Valente reveals. But it wasn't until the group's unofficial headquarters had become his own home that Valente pressed the trigger. "I didn't start taking pictures right away," he explains. "I only started taking pictures when they were completely comfortable."
For two years Valente worked intermittently on this project because "it was a very important story to tell". At the end of his residency, Valente was returned to São Vicente in 2016, following the nomination of the Novo Banco Prize, the most important prize for contemporary Portuguese photography. This opportunity took him one step closer to realizing his dream of "making a museum". His work with Mindelo's young LGBT community was finally exhibited at the Berardo Collection Museum in Lisbon and published in 2017 through Camera Infinita as a book entitled Quel Pedra.
These untitled pictures of Steffy and his seven friends satiate the never-ending feelings of self-love; Edinha, Gi, Elton, Sindji, Suzy Marie, Henio and Jason. Self-worth here is not about how someone equals others, nor does it involve seeing yourself as others see you. Rather, it is to love one's self, regardless of the judgment of others.
Valente explains she is aware of the positive portrayal of her community, adding: "I am telling you the glamorous part of the story, but there is another side."
Mostly, the series is set against the backdrop of insecure homes and unpaved roads. The brick red, barren hills that surround the city charm the country due to the scarcity of natural resources. Mindelo is portrayed as an LGBT-friendly oasis, but Cape Verde is a country struggling to eradicate poverty and meet the basic needs of its population.
Suzy's everyday life is a vivid example of this, Valente says. "She lived in an iron one-bedroom house," the photographer recalls. “He had no kitchen or bathroom. He took a bath in the basket. He woke up at five in the morning, went for two hours, he would come back and take a bath. Then he went to work as a hostess in the old woman's house, which was her friend. She would do everything in the house and then go home, put on her best dress and best shoes, and go out with friends. "
Despite his eyes and reproducing tired tales of poverty, Valente sheds light on a impoverished community that finds strength and joy in freedom of expression.
Back in Portugal, the reaction to Valente's images has been positive, with Western audiences often surprised by African-bizarre images as they do not fit with the continental-dominated images of the LGBTQ + community. At the exhibition, suspicious visitors asked if the pictures were genuine; whether the people in them really existed.
But Valente did not attract Steffy and his friends because of their shocking value. His main concern & nbsp; had the potential to inspire this story. & Nbsp; for the photographer - whose passion for youth culture and sexuality goes back to previous work & nbsp; - is a message of confidence and dignity for young people to share: "At this age, you still believe that you can be anything you want."