For my series Interwoven, I explore the challenges of homosexuality in a hyper-masculine culture within Swaziland. Given that homosexuality is illegal in this small African country, gay men constantly have to hide their sexuality and suppress their true identity. After befriending several gay men in Swaziland, who confided in me their personal stories of struggle, I asked them to choose a piece of local fabric typically worn by women with which I made unique wraps on each of their heads. It would be taboo for men to wear these head-wraps in public, as that would indicate homosexual tendencies. This was one simple way for them to express their individuality that they regularly have to hide.
The woven process is inspired by my apprenticeship work with several local handicraft companies making baskets and rugs which involved intricate weaving techniques. In using this technique, I hand-shred the printed portraits, and then weave them with fabric from the head wrap in the actual photograph. Each man’s gaze is directly on the viewer as if demanding attention to their true identity while still being hidden behind the fabric, which is a metaphor for their culture suppression. This masked, submissive state is typical in their everyday lives.
Through this series, I aim to channel a voice for these silenced men and embracing an otherwise frowned-upon identity with a sense of pride without neglecting the reality of their every day existence.