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Lives of gay and lesbian migrants explored in Brighton exhibition

Shane's artwork, from the 'Queer Crossings' project.

Josco's artwork, from the 'Queer Crossings' project

“In my life not everything is perfect. Sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m not.”

‘Shane’ – not his real name – is a migrant living in Johannesburg. His artwork and creative writing, along with that of 12 other gay and lesbian migrants between the ages of 22-30, will be displayed this month at a new exhibition organised by the University of Sussex.

The ‘Queer Crossings’ exhibition, running from 7-18 September at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton, will shed light on the difficulties encountered by gay, lesbian or transgender refugees who flee to South Africa from other parts of the continent to escape persecution.

People who identify as LGBTIQ have greater rights under South Africa’s legal system than in some other African countries, yet many still face ‘institutional xenophobia and homophobia’ upon arrival in cities such as Johannesburg.

‘Josco’, one of the migrants featured in ‘Queer Crossings’, writes: “I went to Pretoria Home Affairs to apply for an assylum [sic] and they refused to give me cos I was a lesbian.

“They said I must go back to Zimbabwe. In Zim gays and lesbians are prosecuted so I’m scared to go back there.”

Shane and Josco chose to use pseudonyms rather than their real names due to a fear of stigma, discrimination and violence.

The exhibition was organised by the University of Sussex-led Migrating out of Poverty research consortium and is based on work carried out at one of the University’s partners in the consortium, the African Centre for Migration & Society at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.

Elsa Oliveira, a PhD candidate at Witwatersrand, and her supervisor Dr Jo Vearey invited LGBTIQ migrants living in Johannesburg to share their life experiences through creative writing and artwork. The migrants used body mapping, where an outline is drawn around the body, as the basis for their paintings.

Elsa explained: “We hope that the exhibition encourages people to think, consider and engage critically with the issues presented in the migrants’ works.”

L. Alan Winters, Professor of Economics at Sussex and the leader of the Migrating out of Poverty consortium, added: “Migrants are too often thought of just as numbers, but this exhibition illustrates their humanity and their diversity.

“‘Queer Crossings’ shines a light on the lives of one particular group of migrants that might not otherwise have been appreciated.”

Elsa and Dr Vearey arrived in Brighton on Sunday (6 September) as part of an ESRC‑funded exchange programme between Sussex and the University of the Witwatersrand.

After a drinks reception from 5-7pm on Wednesday (9 September), the exhibitors will be giving a short talk on the ‘Queer Crossings’ project. Open to the public, the event takes place at the Brighthelm Centre.

The migrants’ paintings and narratives will be displayed from 7-14 September in the Dhaba café on the Sussex campus, where information will also be available about the MoVE project, which Queer Crossings was born out of.

In addition, Elsa and Dr Vearey will be hosting a seminar on their work with LGBTIQ migrants at the Global Studies Resource Centre on campus on 14 September.

Notes for editors

University of Sussex Press Office: Ben Steele and Jacqui Bealing, 01273 678888,

Posted on behalf of: University of Sussex
Last updated: Wednesday, 9 September 2015