The Queer Activism of Simon Nkoli’s Clothed and Styled Body
Keywords:clothed and styled body, queer activism, queer visibility, Simon Nkoli, style narratives
Simon Nkoli’s life history shows the many issues he championed, including tenants’ rights, anti-apartheid, HIV/Aids activism, and gay and lesbian rights. The Simon Nkoli archival collection housed at the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) includes records of this important historical figure shown during public moments of queer activism and in some private settings. In the observed public moments, Nkoli is seen wearing clothes marked by clear messaging of queer visibility. The private moments show Nkoli using clothes to break socially constructed gender categories laid upon items of dress. This article marries style narratives, gender and queer theories to argue that Nkoli’s clothed and styled body is his visual methodology to support his queer visibility project, expressed through other modes, namely social movements, writings, speeches, and interviews. Through the gender- and queer-infused style narratives in my analysis, I find that Nkoli’s use of t-shirts and sleeveless t-shirts align with the global queer sloganeering of the 1980s. His use of what I call friskoto (pinafore in Sesotho) functions as a visual mode to disrupt gender binaries. Nkoli’s use of clothing and styling shows how he evolves the style narrative concept by infusing queerness as an additional element to the autobiography of the self. However, beyond his inscription of queerness through clothing and styling, Nkoli also demonstrates the potential of the clothed and styled body as a form of queer activism.
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