All photos © Krisanne Johnson. Above: Young Swazi girls run and dance as they join 40,000 virgin girls during the Umhlanga Dance, a right of passage into womanhood. Each year King Mswati III continues the practice of polygamy and chooses one of the girls to be his wife. He now has 13 wives.
Krisanne Johnson’s photo exhibit of girls coming of age in Swaziland is now on view at The Half King in New York. “I Love You Real Fast,” begun in 2006, is a five-year, ongoing immersion in the lives of Swazi girls as they become young women. Theirs is a culture in which the forces of tradition, polygamy, and an HIV epidemic are converging all at once. “In Krisanne’s powerful images, Swazi teens are seen in all their kinetic strength and grace,” observes curator Anna Van Lenten. “Their body language is a wonder—conveying the urgency, power, and drama that entering womanhood entails. Yet Krisanne also captures the emotional intensity of young girls having to contend with very adult issues.”
A tiny African nation of one million, Swaziland is ruled by one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. Its tradition of polygamy and its relaxed attitude toward sexuality have met in a devastating combination, such that for every two young Swazi women, one is HIV positive. Johnson’s involvement in this project has shown her “fast-tracked intimacy and friends lost and gained. Swazi girls are constantly on the verge—of giving birth, burying best friends, finding love, and contending with a life alone and stigmatized.”
-courtesy Anna Van Lenten.
A young Swazi girl prepares her outfit for the annual Umhlanga Dance, a right of passage into womanhood. Nearly every year King Mswati III continues the practice of polygamy and chooses one of approximately 40,000 girls to be his wife. He now has 13 wives.
A new bride cries before entering her new husband’s homestead after symbolically saying goodbye to her family.
Swazi girls ride in the back of a truck through the sugar cane fields in the rural countryside during the annual Umhlanga Dance, a right of passage into womanhood in Swaziland.
An HIV positive woman stands with her newborn child as she visits with family and friends at her home in Swaziland. Months later her child passed away due to complications of HIV/AIDS.