This October, Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) is co-hosting a multimedia exhibition of photographs by Mark Lewis and a video compilation of songs from Nkoli: The Vogue Opera, captured during creative workshops and rehearsals. It’s a celebration of the life of gay anti-apartheid and AIDS activist Simon Nkoli.
Presented in collaboration with Philip Miller, the acclaimed South African composer. the exhibition opened on 2 October 2023 at FirstRand’s casual gallery space Art & About, shared with the new Vovo Telo restaurant at 8 Merchant Place on the greater Merchant Bank campus in Sandton.
On view through October, which is Pride month in South Africa, the exhibition also includes archival material chronicling Nkoli’s life.
“RMB is proud to be an enthusiastic collaborator with Philip Miller in this important initiative to celebrate Simon’s legacy and support ongoing awareness of LBGTQIA+ rights,” says Dharshni Padayachee, Inclusion, Diversity and Transformation Lead at RMB. “We strive to create an inclusive environment where all people, regardless of gender, race or social status, feel safe, supported and engaged.”
A fearless activist and unsung hero, Nkoli played a pivotal role in the history of the struggle for a free South Africa. He displayed a remarkable ability to bridge the gap between marginalised communities. Recognising the importance of visibility and unity, he was one of the first African activists to publicly disclose his homosexuality, and fight for both racial and LGBTQIA+ equality.
Arrested in 1984, he was imprisoned for four year in the famous Delmas Treason Trial where he confronted not only police violence, but also the homophobia of his comrades.
He was instrumental in organising the first ever Pride March in South Africa in 1990, an event that marked the turning point in the LGBTQIA+ movement. His bravery in the face of potential backlash, violence and discrimination set a precedent for future Pride marches.
Nkoli’s relentless activism significantly contributed to the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ rights in South Africa’s constitution, making it the first country to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. His enduring legacy continues to inspire the pursuit of equality and human rights globally.
His life, sadly cut short in 1998, was a testament to the power of courage, resilience and an unwavering commitment to justice. Nkoli: The Vogue Opera celebrates his legacy through the transformative power of music, combined with a rich archive of his letters and diaries smuggled out of prison.
It is a powerful reminder of the impact that one person can have on the world.
“At RMB we choose to be part of a collective and inclusive culture where all voices are heard and respected,” says Padayachee. “Support for the Nkoli Vogue Opera and the multimedia exhibition is an opportunity to publicly demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. By challenging the invisibility of queer identity, we can fill the blanks in our history books with the untold stories of the marginalised.”
Join RMB in celebrating Simon Nkoli’s life and legacy this Pride month. “Everyone visiting the exhibition will help to keep Simon’s spirit alive,” concludes Padayachee.
Nkoli: The Vogue-Opera will be on at the Market Theatre from 17 to 19 November. Tickets available on webticket.