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Being on (the) board by Boris Dittrich

In March 2017, I was required to say goodbye to the Prince Claus Fund. Dutch regulations don’t allow someone to be a board member for longer than 8 years. I dreaded the moment I had to stop working in this capacity for the Fund, but on the other hand I see the point that it is good for an NGO to welcome new board members with fresh ideas, input and with a different network.

Reflecting on these past 8 years, why did I enjoy being involved with the work of the Fund so much? It won’t be that I will miss going through all the financial documents, read all the subsidy applications to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nor will I lose sleep over not giving input to the Fund’s yearly reports.

What motivated me was meeting the people the Prince Claus Fund works for and with. Through the networks the Prince Claus Fund maintains and through the yearly awards I got to know extraordinary artists who are very inspirational. I learned a lot from them by listening to their stories. Many artists in countries far away from the Netherlands try to contribute to the progress in their society through their works of art. Cultural expression as a means to achieve development. This sounds rather vague, so let me give one concrete example of a recipient of the Prince Claus Award who made an everlasting impression on me because of the quality of her work and the person she is.

Zanele Muholi.

She is a visual activist from South Africa who focuses in her photographic work on young black lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men. She doesn’t merely take beautiful portrait pictures of her models, but she engages them, and knows how to extract pride and self-confidence from them and captivate that in her work.

Young black lesbians, bisexual women and transgender men who live in townships in South Africa face many difficult challenges because of homophobia and transphobia. The worst crimes are rape and murder. The term ‘corrective’ rape is coined. The perpetrators pretend that raping a lesbian or bisexual woman or a transgender man might ‘cure’ them and turn them into a heterosexual woman. Others rape lesbian and bisexual women or transgender men as punishment for not adhering to hetero-normative standards society has imposed. Sometimes the victims are murdered. The police did not show much stamina to solve these killings and rapes. Many perpetrators are still at large. Human Rights Watch documented these horrible crimes in the 2011 report:  “‘We’ll Show You You’re a Woman’: Violence and Discrimination Against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men,” which is based on more than 120 interviews conducted in six provinces.

Zanele was frustrated by the fact that when you google ‘lesbians in South Africa’ you end up reading atrocious stories about rape and murder. But where is the dignity of young lesbians, bisexual women and transgender men? Through her work she offers a different perspective and shows their strength, their resilience, their hope for a better future without violence and discrimination.

It was my honour to open the exhibition ‘fo(u)nd’ in the Prince Claus Fund Gallery in 2013 by interviewing Zanele about her visual activism.Muholi, has spent years documenting the lives of black lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people in South Africa. “We live in fear,” Muholi said. “And what are we doing about it? You have to document. You are forced to document.”

On the wall in the Gallery many black and white portraits were on display, but there was one empty space. Why? Zanele answered: “That’s where the portrait of Duduzile Zozo should have been. She was a 26-year old black lesbian who was raped and murdered. Her body was found close to her neighbour’s house in the Thokoza Township, in Johannesburg in June 2013.  So I want to dedicate this exhibition to her and leave a blank space on purpose.”

In South Africa Zanele inspires many black lesbians, transgender men and their allies to combat violence and discrimination and find pride and dignity with themselves. The recognition of her work by the Prince Claus Fund contributed to the international platform Zanele has found in the course of the years.  With her works of art Zanele has cast a light on a dark side of South African’s society and proved to have impact. The authorities installed a commission that reviews the police’s response to reports of rape and murder.

Human Rights Watch made a short documentary about Zanele and her work. You can watch it here

Boris Dittrich served on the Board of the Prince Claus Fund from 2009-2017. He is Advocacy Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender programme for Human Rights Watch, New York, USA. 

Being on (the) board by Boris Dittrich

"What motivated me was meeting people the Fund works for and with"

Boris Dittrich

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by Boris Dittrich

Being on (the) board by Boris Dittrich

In March 2017, I was required to say goodbye to the Prince Claus Fund. Dutch regulations don’t allow someone to be a board member for longer than 8 years. I dreaded the moment I had to stop working in this capacity for the Fund, but on the other hand I see the point that it is good for an NGO to welcome new board members with fresh ideas, input and with a different network. Reflecting on these...

 
 
 
 

Being on (the) board by Boris Dittrich

In March 2017, I was required to say goodbye to the Prince Claus Fund. Dutch regulations don’t allow someone to be a board member for longer than 8 years. I dreaded the moment I had to stop working in this capacity for the Fund, but on the other hand I see the point that it is good for an NGO to welcome new board members with fresh ideas, input and with a different network. Reflecting on these...