Freedom of hate speech and how society lets shit slide: Kamohelo Khoaripe’s war on verbal abuse

The danger of being anything considered outside the norm is probably humanity’s greatest failure and sadly present everywhere. The old news is that homophobia is hard to dodge and the level of violence and tolerance comes in different limits, in any country and language. The profanities are endless, and the many shades of derogatory terms can make any person’s dignity crumble in a heartbeat, ain’t that right – chi-chi man/ batty boy/ faggot/ dyke/ muff diver/ carpet muncher?

The stigma and discrimination faced by many LGBT people throughout history has taught us that governments aren’t engaging fully enough in order to eliminate hate crimes/verbal assaults based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2011, UN’s human rights chief warned about the rising of homophobic hate crimes around the world, accordingly figures show homosexuality remains a criminal offence in more than 70 countries.

I’ll go on: cases of corrective rape, numerous reports of murder, and this poll conducted by YouGov in 2013 revealing – one in six LGBT people (630,000) have been the victim of a homophobic hate crime/verbal insults/harassment /physical assault – all this paints a picture of disappointment. Its a disaster this global issue is even brought into the mainstream consciousness and a total embarrassment for humankind.

We need to start talking about hate speech, the abuse and freedom of it. Acknowledging and tackling the increase of hate crime alone won’t silent the verbal version of it – public expression of views calls for consequences.

In April earlier this year, Stocktown & Beat Prose Magazine launched a challenge urging artists to submit their work to us relating to the subject ‘Fighting through the challenges of our time’. With such an abundance of submissions, we finally managed to crown our winner, it gives us great pleasure to introduce you all to Sthlm-based photographer Kamohelo Khoaripe and his photo project ‘Freedom of Hate Speech’.

Kamohelo Khoaripe. Photo: Heather Ferrigan
Kamohelo Khoaripe. Photo: Heather Ferrigan

At the age of 20, Kamohelo met Paul Shiakallis, a professional photographer whom he assisted during shoots, that’s when he started taking it seriously and pursued his passion. Today, you could catch him all over the place shooting events in Stockholm, as he had done previously in Joburg, and his work encompasses a range of things from portraits to advertising work to editorial work. ‘I don’t wanna put myself in a box, I’m open for anything. If I have to go out there and document pride I’ll do that, taking photos for events, lifestyle parties, posters, or a look-book, I’ll do it.

Back in 2013, Kamohelo took to his camera and decided to bite his tongue, to listen and be receptive to people expressing hate and prejudice about homosexuality.

The freedom of hate speech comes in appropriate when somebody IS listening. Turns out – he might just be a genius, but he doesn’t know about it yet. When I asked what he considers the greatest challenge of our time to be, he replied:

– Homophobia. People kill in the name of religion because apparently ‘Jesus said that’, which is very ignorant to me. A lot of people are getting killed and people aren’t getting convicted for it, because of their sexuality. Gay people are being seen as animals in the eyes of ignorant people. ‘Freedom of Hate Speech’ shows what’s happening right now.

Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe
Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe

Freedom of Hate Speech’ is a portrait series that blew us away instantly, and as the title suggests deals with a subject that is undoubtedly in need of crucial addressing – portraying preconceptions on LGBT people. The photo series provides an opportunity to show solidarity in the fight to end preconceptions against LGBT people and brings forth the realities of hate speech to public attention. The video above ‘Zanele Muholi, Visual Activist’ (2013) documents the award-winning photographer’s work and marks a campaign against gender violence which inspired Kamohelo’s work on ‘Freedom of Hate Speech’:

– We had an assignment in school where we did a representation of someones work in your own eye and I got Zanele Muholi. I knew what kind of photographs she was doing, portraits, documenting LGBT people, raising awareness about corrective rape and different sexuality. Reading through her artist statement, I thought ‘oh wow this is cool’. I was like ok let me do this, document the people who are committing the hate speech holding a placard and showing different terms.

Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe
Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe

Kamohelo’s work documents hate and captures various attitudes expressed by everyday people. Its an ongoing photo project that hopes to raise awareness about homophobia, as well as the role of people observing and I believe that this project is an artefact of our time, epitomising homophobia in its true generic form.

– I went around asking people, homophobic people, what terms they would use/ what they would call a gay person, or words that have been said to them. I got a couple of people and they wrote down words and I printed them out and they posed with them.

There is still more to be done and people such as Kamohelo Khoaripe are paving the way and committed to working with photography as a means to show the great impact we play in our part of being observers of homophobic hate speech. Its a study or observation, asking – what are we doing about it?

Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe
Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe

Talk us through your vision of ‘Freedom of Hate Speech’ , what do these portraits tell us?

– Its about how society lets shit like this slide. Showing how ‘its my freedom to say such shit’. A lot of shit is happening and people are committing all these crimes in the name of religion, which is pretty fucked up, that’s what I hate about it. People are doing shit because of religion, culture and all these shit excuses. I do it for me, this is what I wanna do, and I wanna change this. Then its up to the next person if he’ll take it or not, but I know theres a lot of people who won’t appreciate it, they’ll say ‘fuck that guy, he’s also gay’, or something like that, I’m trying to change people’s perspective on gay people, not just about being gay but stuff that’s been done to people.

Where and when was is shot?

– In June, 2013, while I was staying at a friend’s place in Pretoria, ZA, we always had these conversations about gay people and in general people could slip something like ‘I like gay people..but’… e:g, ‘gay people are like this’ and that kind of thinking caught my interest. I had an idea but not a theme, it came after I handed in the assignment, after getting my results, that’s when I wrote the title, I came first in class.

Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe
Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe

Where did you find your subjects for your portraits, and how did you react to their answers?

– Random people and acquaintances, one guy was a security guard who worked around the complex we stayed at, the other guys stayed around the area, walking past the apartment. I’d stop them and ask: ‘Which word would you use to refer to gay people?’ My reaction was like – how do you come up with such offence terms? Standing there felt stupid, I felt provoked, but at the same time I was laughing about it, asking ‘Are you serious?’ or ’Do you think you’re better than them?’. I wasn’t angry, I wanted to ask questions. I’m interested in why people think like that. They’re entitled to their own opinion. I don’t want to change their thoughts. Its not their fault I can’t blame them.

Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe
Photo: Kamohelo Khoaripe

What is your role as a photographer in this project? What have you learnt about yourself while doing this, and where do you see yourself going from here?

– I’ve learnt to be open to new things actually, to know about it, not bullshiting it or speaking shit about it. To get to meet and understand and sit with the people and ask questions, to get informed about their way of thinking. In the future I’d like to do a photo exhibition a project called ‘Living in living rooms’ coz I’ve been living in different living rooms sleeping over lately, more than at least a 20, haha. I’d also like to document everything thats happening in Stockholm and perhaps launch the same kind of photo series here, there’s a lot of good stuff going on here and people are just sleeping on it.

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‘Zanele Muholi, Visual Activist’ (2013)


Directed by: Katherine Fairfax & Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Zanele Muholi

Documents the award-winning photographer’s work and marks a campaign against gender violence. The video is dedicated to the memory of Duduzile Zozo, who was brutally raped and murdered in Thokoza, Gauteng Province in South Africa on June 30, 2013. “Zanele Muholi embodies the strength and resilience of a community that is particularly vulnerable to gender violence,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.