#22 Group Dynamics
Photography is often described as a solitary pursuit, but this issue of Photography+ considers photographers working in groups, including collectives, co-operatives, schools, and local communities. Included image-makers currently working on projects in the UK, the US, Botswana, and Russia, it also includes three women who helped co-found the Format Photographers Agency, a woman-only collective that operated from London from 1983-2003.
Collective projects are currently fashionable, as the renewed interest in Format’s archive shows. The Format photographers are honest about some of the difficulties of working this way, but they also eloquently explain it can be stronger – from practical advantages such as sharing kit or bargaining power, to the psychological boost of sharing with like-minded people who’ve got your back. For Botswana’a Banana Club collective the latter is crucial, providing Queer and underrepresented artists with access to kit and advice but also a safe space to be.
For Almudena Romero, meanwhile, London’s often-maligned Thamesmead estate has provided an unexpectedly warm sense of community, chiming with her sense that actually, we’re never truly alone. For Romero, photographers and people in general are always part of a wider grouping, and that includes the environment as well as other people. ‘In Western philosophy we think of the mind as detached from the body and separate from the community,’ she says. ‘But in other cultures it’s assumed that the community and your environment are part of you.’
The three-month Banana Club Artist Fund residency aims to boost representation for LGBTQI+ artists in Botswana by facilitating their practice and helping build community explains P+ writer-in-residence Tanlume Enyatseng, who is founder, creative director, and projects lead of the Banana Club queer artists’ collective.
In November 2021 the Botswana Court of Appeal made a landmark decision, upholding the decriminalisation of same-sex relations in the country. Reaffirming the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, this ruling also sent a powerful message about acceptance and recognition both in Botswana and beyond. But despite this significant legal victory, as in many parts of the world, the LGBTQIA+ community in Botswana faces long-standing challenges including marginalisation and exclusion.
The Banana Club Artist Fund (BCAF) aims to boost Botswana’s queer representation through a unique blend of art and community building. A three-month residency program designed to support emerging creative entrepreneurs from under–served communities, it offers participants the opportunity to produce and present artistic projects, with the backing of Banana Club. Banana Club is committed to empowering artists by providing safe spaces, mentorship, and curatorial support, fostering creative agency while challenging societal stereotypes surrounding LGBTQIA+ individuals.
The essence of the residency program lies in challenging the prevailing notion that LGBTQIA+ individuals exist solely within the confines of poverty and social ills. By providing a platform for visual artists across all disciplines, BCAF aims to showcase the diversity and richness of the LGBTQIA+ community’s creative expression, dispelling harmful narratives and promoting inclusivity. ‘When Banana Club was launched in 2019, it was a safe space focused on community dialogues,’ explains Banana Club Attorney Obakeng Chabanga. ‘We instantly launched a movement of artist-led conversations and created a sense of community when queer bodies needed it the most
This evolution from a safe space to an institution, studio, and agency signifies Banana Club’s growing impact and reach. BCAF is now in its second year but has already played a pivotal role in supporting emerging talents, such as budding musician Yorokee. After a combination of financial aid, mentorship, and curatorial support, Yorokee says he felt blessed, ‘to have found a home, to have found a team that works relentlessly to help me make my wildest dream a reality’.
Yorokee’s testimony reflects the tangible impact the residency program has on the lives of those it supports. Inspired by multidisciplinary artist Ngozi Chukura’s emphasis on community as practice, the residency model encourages artists to create, and provides them with the platforms to showcase their work. This ethos aligns with Banana Club’s mission to champion inclusivity in art industries, moving beyond traditional exhibition spaces to preserve personal and communal connections.
For the 2023 residency program Banana Club collaborated with Visule Kabunda, a Zambian-born visual artist and graphic designer. Kabunda’s work, which is primarily photographic here, documents the often unseen artistic processes and community aspects associated with executing a successful residency. Kabunda chose to make this work on film, explaining: ‘Shooting on film requires you to be present in that there are no quick fixes; there’s a delay between taking a photograph and seeing the results. These limitations require me to work with intent and to make considered choices from the beginning to the end of my process.’
Kabunda’s considered approach mirrors the ethos of the residency programme, underscoring the depth and sincerity with which Banana Club seeks to engage with its community’s artistic expression – moving away from superficial representation to a more profound exploration of identity and belonging. Unlike many arts agencies and institutions, BCAF is sustained through money raised by the Banana Club collective, the young artists banding together to create opportunities independently. Fostering a sense of community, this also challenges the conventional structures that often dictate artistic expression.
Collaborating with entities such as the Delegation of the European Union in Botswana and the World Bank, Banana Club has become a cornerstone of art and advocacy in Southern Africa. As the collective approaches its fifth anniversary in 2024, Banana Club Attorney Obakeng Chabanga outlines its commitment to social change through art and advocacy, and its plans for a series of public programmes in collaboration with local and regional partners.
‘In the spirit of this milestone and our continued commitment towards championing social change through art and advocacy, we will host a series of public programs in collaboration with local and regional partners,’ he says. ‘Broken down in quarterly themes, the different initiatives build on our already existing platforms and look to incorporate a more holistic approach to sustainability and inclusivity within underserved communities.’
The collective is committed to fostering social change through art, transcending simple representation to actively engage with the LGBTQIA+ community and its narratives. Professor and photographer Zanele Muholi’s powerful quote – ‘It is not a crime to live, survive, breathe and not always be perceived as someone who needs to be saved’ – encapsulates the Banana Club’s mission, to empower, celebrate, and humanise the experiences of the queer and marginalised communities.
By providing a platform for emerging artists, fostering a sense of community, and challenging harmful narratives, Banana Club demonstrates the impact culture can have in reshaping societal perceptions and promoting inclusivity. The residency program, with its intentional focus on process and community, exemplifies a holistic and sustainable approach to empowering LGBTQIA+ artists and rewriting their stories through the lens of creativity.