Bye bye paper membership cards
South African artist Angel-Ho is on a quest to bring forth the silenced voices of the queer community. Exploring themes of transgender love, identity, struggle and solidarity, her pop-infused experimental club music (and assertive non-binary glamour) deconstruct gender binaries and dislodge entrenched power systems.
Interview by Silvija Daniunaite
Photos by Jabu Nadia Newman
How do you see yourself as an artist?
As an artist, I’m critiquing the world from a point of view that isn’t jaded by the patriarchal systems currently in place. I’m always looking at what it means to be transgender and to have an imagination in contemporary society. I see myself as someone dedicated to arts and education. I want to create something that’s sustainable and has longevity in its discourse. To create utopias among dystopias.
I’m critiquing the world from a point of view that isn’t jaded by the patriarchal systems
What’s the symbolism behind your recent album, Death Becomes Her?
The reason I chose Death Becomes Her is because of the high news coverage of deaths and murders of transgender women. I wanted to create something that was raising awareness about this pandemic across the world. On the album, through Death, she became Her. It symbolises the killing of the old self and rebirth of a new self – a woman. It also goes back to the idea of people deadnaming you as a transgender person, not using the correct pronouns. It’s closely linked to my personal journey.
You collaborated with many artists who have their own narratives around identity. Have you always found collaboration with POC artists and the LGBTQI+ community important?
I’ve always found it important to collaborate because it’s entirely impossible to create art alone. I think there’s vanity that comes with creating art that’s putting only one person to the forefront. I feel like our queer histories aren’t being told enough, and it’s important for people to have their voices heard, as well as my own. That’s where I really find value in collaboration. It brings together communities that really need to put forth their thoughts about this world.
I think there’s vanity that comes with creating art that’s putting only one person to the forefront
Your album feels like a commentary on how queer and trans narratives are oftentimes erased and silenced. What’s your reflection on how these narratives are represented in music today?
There’s a point I want to make about mainstream music and queer culture: it’s been robbed from us over the years. Let’s take Madonna. Madonna has put into her music what is distinctively a queer culture of vogueing. While she created an entire economy for herself, the queer community was left to sow the bitter realities of hardship. We support good music, but I don’t think that the message of the queer community should be narrated by these women. We’re constantly being fed a one-directional, one-dimensional view of the world, and that’s creating a fence around our minds for new ideas to come in.
Fashion seems to be an important part of your work. What meaning do you find in clothes?
Fashion allows me to bring to reality the fantasies of how I see myself existing in the world. It allows me to shape the imagination of my own identity, to be openly queer and to express my queerness in a way where I can be looking and thinking like a man or a woman. It’s really playing with ideas of gender identity. I feel like fashion has really enabled me to explore my own relationship with my body.
Over the years, you’ve grown from a performer, to a producer, to a singer/songwriter. What have you learnt from these experiences?
I’ve learnt that I don’t want to stay in one place. I’m always exploring new facets of myself, my music and my life. Now I’ve come to a point in my life where I want education to be at the forefront of everything I do, because mainstream culture has really irritated my mind. I’m trying to find out what it is to be human at the core of art and to be unapologetically myself when it comes to creating art. I really thought that becoming a pop star was what I wanted, but in reality, I want to push music off its tracks and on to a path where it’s a pure expression of one’s self.
I see transgender people becoming the face of mainstream music, art and society
How do you envision the future?
I see transgender people becoming the face of mainstream music, art and society. But I’ll be truthful and say that we’re going to need more time before people stop killing others because of their gender identity. The reality of our society is that queer culture is only accepted in certain spaces and doses. But we are magnificent all the time. For society, it becomes overwhelming to the point where people start looking for ‘flaws’ in the queer community. In reality, there’s no problem with us; the problem is with the heteronormative society.
Angel-Ho + Nyoko Bokbaë
+ Soumaya Phéline + Kim Berly
20 sep – Vooruit, Ghent
Free for Subbacultcha members.
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