Queertopia: In pursuit of an expansive queerness

The Other Village People (OVP) is establishing its own country again. Under the moniker Queertopia, the “reimagined country” will only exist for three days but has, as countries do, its own flag and — following on the succcess of OVP’s previous queer-centered social events — an almost guaranteed slew of “citizens”.

Making their dissatisfaction with the dearth of safe spaces for queer folk patently clear, and doing something about it, are DJ Andiswa Dlamini (AN.D) and curator Kefiloe Siwisa, who make up Other Village People. The duo is also behind Same Sex Saturday (a party space that runs in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban) and Grounded, which bills itself as “an intimate series of alternative experiences from hikes to dinners and everything in between”.

Their vision of Queertopia forms part of Night Embassy Johannesburg, a residency programme centered around “exploring new directions in nightlife culture”. 

“Imagine what the world would feel like if it were designed by and for queer communities? Queertopia is a reimagining of a country, a new world order that normalises and celebrates our differences as if it’s always been that way,” Dlamini says. 

The three-day event at Constitution Hill will feature a flag-raising ceremony, a photographic exhibition of queer nightlife, spaces “for connection and affirmation” and performances by Nonku Phiri, Buhlebendalo, Muneyi and DJs, Congo Muffin, Rosie Parade and Thanda Kunene.

The duo spoke to Carl Collison about loneliness in the queer nightlife scene, “recreating and rethinking our future” and “bringing a little joy into people’s lives”.

Queertopia by Other Village People offers, for three days at least, a country designed by and for queer communities

What you’re doing is ambitious: there’s the exhibition, there’s the space for communing and then there’s the partying …

Kefiloe Siwisa: Queertopia is essentially trying to [speak to] this idea of what would a micro country that is created by and for queer people look like? That is the reason we have so many aspects to it. And we wanted to really conceptualise it around things that we feel are the foundational basis of what a country is made out of: you know, places of spiritual well-being; places where laws are created and ideas are shared; places of joy and celebration and communing. 

And then also something that feels quite historical, which comes in the form of the exhibition, under the name House of Remembrance. So we wanted to kind of use [these] as a way to then bring people together under this idea of Queertopia. 

We named all the days around “the house”, [paying] homage to voguing and creating safe spaces for queer communities. The first day is The House of New Order. And that’s about recreating or rethinking our future and trying to reimagine a new future for LGBTQIA+ communities — and allies — together. Another section is the House of Remembrance. It is being created as an exhibition, yes, but it’s really about creating a space that celebrates queer nightlife, through archival footage, but also through recent photographs that have been taken at queer nightlife party spaces: at Pussy Party, Vogue Nights Jozi, Same Sex Saturdays. So it’s really, like, creating our own history, our present history and celebrating that — but also looking a little bit back to what brought us to the space in which we are in now. 

Day two is the House of Spirit. It’s really important that, you know, nightlife becomes more nuanced for us and it’s not just about hardcore partying. So we wanted to bring in the feeling of people really connecting on a higher level: through experimental live music, meditation and creating or fostering a space where people could then express and share their experiences of the world they live in, of the world we share. And, yeah, making a space that feels like home, essentially. Like a home away from home. 

Andiswa Dlamini: The last day is the House of the People. Day three is just about music, feeling free, feeling loud, feeling proud. You know? And feeling like this is the world, this has always been the world.

The reimagined country ‘normalises and celebrates our differences as if it’s always been that way’, say the organisers

And this should be the world.

Both: Yes! Exactly. 

KS: It was also very important for us that Queertopia normalises the things people feel are so outrageous or different. We’re not trying to hyper-sensationalise queerness. We’re just trying to normalise it. We’re like, “Okay, this is an everyday experience. This is not a subculture. This is not a pop culture moment. This is people’s lives. And this is how we express ourselves on an everyday basis. And this is just a way to affirm that and find a place for it in the world.”

AD: To me, Queertopia is not the beginning. It is a continuation [of] building more spaces … where we can hold our partners’ hands; where we [don’t have to] please the gaze of others; where we are because we are — and no one’s looking at [us] any differently. You know?

You have been doing Same Sex Saturday since 2016. And then you started Grounded. While we have our queer party spaces, such as Vogue Nights Jozi, Great Dane or Pussy Party, I love the more unique idea of Grounded.  

KS: Grounded started last year. It came out of the feeling that there is this heightened party space and people can be so many versions of themselves [in those party spaces], but we also felt people were missing more intimate forms of connection in a more downtempo environment. 

As queer people, sometimes you feel like you can’t enter certain areas because of safety and because of all these other barriers. So then came the first edition of Grounded, which was a hike. And the hike was really about connection —  connection to nature; connection to self — but also to rest.  Because I feel like a lot of us are always hypervigilant in the city. We’re constantly feeling on the defence. And so we wanted a place for deep, deep rest and restoration.

AD: But what we also found while doing research after Same Sex Saturdays is that a lot of our community members and tribe are not friends. Like, we are not connected. People are lonely. And in the party space, while you feel like you have a lot of friends, you don’t. You don’t have [someone] you can talk to about an issue … that you’d want to tell a friend about. 

We found a lot of people maybe don’t have the right people on their side — or in their lives. And a lot of people are actually lonely. So we wanted Grounded to serve as a space where people can just meet 20 human beings that will be there for them. Or, in that 20, find one that they connect with. That was very important when we were creating Grounded. Because the party space is huge. You’re not seen as you want to be seen …

Or you have to put on all these layers …

KS: Exactly. And Grounded was about stripping a lot of that down and saying, “Come as you are.” That was such an incredible experience, because people came from way different backgrounds. We learned so much about one another. Then that came into the dinner space, where we wanted to throw a very family-style dinner, which we did … and we found that people want to return to these spaces. And by returning to these spaces, the relationships become stronger, and the networks become stronger.

Artist Moonchild Sanelly at Queertopia

What are your hopes for this entire project, not just Queertopia, but Grounded and Same Sex Saturday and all that you are doing? And for us as a queer community?

AD: There’s so many people that are in need of cheering [up] and listening to, that it would be really nice to have a space where people can come in and talk and feel safe. Or even a space where someone can just get away from home for a few weeks. 

A place of safety. Just to, you know, be away from some of the conflicts that come with being the people that we are … I don’t know what the future has in store for Other Village People, for Grounded, for Same Sex Saturdays, for Queertopia. All I know is that I do things to bring a little bit of joy into people’s lives. And that’s all that I try to achieve with what I do. 

KS: As much as we say that queerness can fit within this LGBTQIA+ bracket, we’re also trying to expand our understanding of what queerness means … to say that it doesn’t matter how you identify — even if you don’t have a name for it yet — there is a place for you here. We just want to feel as though there’s a fluidity, there is a sense of expansiveness around what queerness is and what it can be — and what it will be in the future. 

Queertopia takes place until Saturday 20 November at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill. Tickets available from Webtickets

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Carl Collison
Carl Collison
Carl Collison is a freelance journalist who focuses primarily on covering queer-related issues across Africa

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