Nonkululeko Dube - Simphiwe

Social constraints and expectations of gender behaviour lead daily human life. The Western idea of the gender binary dominates world views and obscures the real spectrum. Genders exist as manifold as people in this world and yet people are raised to become unattainable prototypes of femininity and masculinity. From boys with long hair to women in executive positions to the simple existence of non-binary and trans* individuals – we are all born into a game that cannot be won. A person’s individual gender identity does not inherently condition if they can achieve their aims; external barriers of gender definitions restrain our ways.

Gender is irrelevant. Is gender irrelevant? How can something socially fabricated shape the individual and the collective to such an extent? How is it sustained; how does it evolve? Do we break gender into pieces only to rebuild it?

Nonkululeko Dube On Simphiwe

My intention with this project is to embrace the freedom we obtained 25 years ago by depicting our freedom to express our ideas, opinion and sexualities without fear of discrimination. I was inspired by positive energy Masombuka has towards life and the fact that they are open minded. I knew certainly that collaborating with them would be a rewarding experience. The shacks of KwaThema are nothing like the ones I grew up in back home. They are made of the same material, but they are painted in beautiful, bright colors. The reason I chose the informal settlements is that they always associated with inequality, violence and crime. But in this case, I needed to show something beautiful about the shacks.


Nonkululeko Dube was born in South Africa. She is a photographer and writer and lives in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal South African province. She graduated from Inkanyiso Mobile School of Photography and currently studies photojournalism and documentary at The Market Photo Workshop. Her first exhibition was a co-exhibition titled Volume 44 at the Market Photo Workshop in collaboration with the Netherlands Embassy on Sexuality and Gender- based Violence.

As a photographer her work focuses on documentary and conceptualized photography. Nonkululeko focuses on recording memories of the past and traumatic instants as a catharsis. Discovering environmental and social issues that make humans start investigating and questioning the norm. The exhibited work “Simphiwe (We have been gifted)” is a collaboration between 27- year-old traditional healer, Simphiwe Masombuka and Nonkululeko Dube. Masombuka provides traditional healing services to many in their community.

Queer Festival Heidelberg on Dube’s Work

We chose this work because it addresses gender nonconforming identity and behaviour in a collaborative and unique way. We see a strong and consistent series of portraits, questioning the photographic tradition of documenting humans in their everyday outfit and surroundings. At the same time, the work contradicts the depiction of traditional gender roles. It establishes a consistent aesthetic disrupting the viewer’s stereotypical expectations. The special quality of Nonkululeko Dube’s work derives from this disruption as well as her collaborative approach.