Isivumelwano • Sabelo Mlangeni
Shortlisted for the Paris Photo–Aperture PhotoBook Awards 2022
120 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches, Hardcover, Texts by Emmanuel Balogun, Athi Mongezeleli Joja, Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni, Tshepiso Mazibuko, Design by Hans Gremmen, Fw:Books.
The title Isivumelwano comes from Nguni, a group of languages (including Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swati) spoken in several South African countries. The word stands for a contract, agreement or covenant, and here is synonymous with the marriage ceremonies of black communities recorded by Mlangeni in southern Africa. In a series of 70+ images, the viewer is invited to participate in almost as many ceremonies, very diverse in nature. Lovingly captured couples who deviate from the heteronormative standard, local populations and cultural customs defy traditional notions of the white wedding.
Isivumelwano is both a celebration of and a critique of the relationships we maintain with others. According to the photographer, “the project exposes the systems we find ourselves in (and resist).” However, the critical note is not immediately apparent in Mlangeni’s images – the cruelty of unjust history is hidden behind a ceremonial veil. In the foreground is deliberately the antagonist of hatred and violence: love. Mlangeni captures the intimate, special moments during wedding ceremonie. The images become more than just a documentation of these rituals: “They show that love is the key that takes cultures from oppression to joy. As a political unifier, the contract – love – takes on a liberating force.”