Sistaaz of the Castle: Colourful transgender fashion in Cape Town

Dutch artists Jan Hoek and Duran Lantink depict transgender sex workers in bouyant fashions.

Amsterdam-based artists Jan Hoek and Duran Lantink are introducing some unapologetic humour to the subject of transgender sex workers in Cape Town.

With the help of the transgender advocacy group SWEAT (several members of which are subjects in the photographic series), these two artists showcase the creative capability of the “girls” through fashion. Many members of SWEAT are impoverished and live on the streets near the Castle of Good Hope, but that does not stop them from taking their small resources and creating their own personal glamour.

This creative tenacity inspired Lantink’s fashion collection. He recognised his own desire to craft impressive couture outfits using whatever is to hand in these transgender individuals, all of whom have far less access to proper fabric and tools. They recycle and repurpose found materials. Their flair for taking rags and producing interesting fashion creations to reach new heights in self-definition inspired Lantink. The fashion production of Hoek and Lantink was put on display as part of Amsterdam Fashion Week 2016.

It is clear that female impersonation is not the goal of either the designer or the girls of Sistaaz of the CastleInstead, Lantink creates interesting angular silhouettes and utilises a form of collage to bring together different textures and materials, keeping the hand-made craft of the girls at the heart of the project. Lantink demonstrates the power that can be found in inelegance – a cheeky potency that is eventually pulled through into Hoek’s photographs.

Hoek's images illustrate the dream of each Sistaaz girl. Both he and Lantink played the role of facilitator as the girls were given the chance to act out their fantasies. Coco, a member of SWEAT, described her desire to travel the world and become the Statue of Liberty in New York.

In a different setting, Coco chose to represent the metaphor of “coming out of the closet” in an image that portrays her bursting out of a giant egg. Sistaaz of the Castle looks with lightheartedness and sense of pride at the every day lives of transgender sex workers.

Neither the photographer nor fashion designer focusses on social injustice in their depictions. Instead, they highlight the fun of playing with gender identity.