RE-EDITION presents a portfolio by the extraordinary South African visual activist and artist Zanele Muholi, whose mid-career retrospective is scheduled to begin at the Tate Modern this summer - running until 18th October 2020. We give an exclusive preview here - to see the full story, see our latest issue 13.
Zanele Muholi in conversation with Renée Mussai My practice as a visual activist looks at black resistance—existence as well as insistence. Most of the work I have done over the years focuses exclusively on black LGBTQIA and gender-nonconforming individuals making sure we exist in the visual archive. (In Faces and Phases, I focused exclusively on LBTQ individuals, for instance, bearing in mind that gender politics are complex, and fluid; the acronyms are always shifting and changing.) The key question that I take to bed with me is: what is my responsibility as a living being—as a South African citizen reading continually about racism, xenophobia, and hate crimes in the mainstream media? This is what keeps me awake at night. Thus Somnyama Ngonyama is not only about beautiful photographs, as such, but also about bringing forth political statements. The series touches on beauty and relates to historical incidents, giving affirmation to those who doubt whenever they speak to themselves, whenever they look in the mirror, to say, “You are worthy. You count. Nobody has the right to undermine you because of your being, because of your race, because of your gender expression, because of your sexuality, because of all that you are.”
Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness
Almost Half the Full Picture
By Gabi Ngcobo
In the early 2000’s, at the beginning of my artistic and curatorial practice, it became very clear that South Africa had entered a period where post-apartheid black subjectivities became a point of interest for many art professionals from the west. In 2004, when South Africa celebrated the first decade of democracy, many exhibitions took place within the country and an even larger number were mounted in Europe and the USA. These exhibitions presented a commemorative visual report on how personal and historical narratives that were previously suppressed were beginning to find their voice beyond what was then termed “Protest Art” or “Resistance Art”. During this period we started witnessing a growing academic interest in how (black) same-sex expressions were continuing to fight for their place in the new construction of (post-apartheid) nation. The new research interest by sociologists from Gender and Sexuality Studies university departments produced the first pool of studies interested in how South Africa’s new constitution, one of the most progressive in the world, had an effect on same-sex relationships and queer identities preceding the passing of the Civil Union Act in November 2006. It was around this time that Zanele Muholi enrolled and in 2004 completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, exhibiting as part of her course completion in a group exhibition titled Is Everybody Comfortable? Indeed not everybody was comfortable about the free expressions of complex female identities that were portrayed by the 13 women* featured in the exhibition (which included, among others Keorapetse Mosimane, Lolo Veleko and Ingrid Masondo). There was no doubt that the South African image-making landscape, which was previously male dominated, was shifting rapidly. Muholi’s images could not be ignored. They were collectively exciting and disturbing. Exciting because until that time we were never confronted with realities lived by many members of the LGBTI+ community who participated in Muholi’s documentary photo-essays; especially black lesbian women living in South Africa’s often perilous townships. The images were personal and intimate. They also poetically depicted disturbing encounters with hate and violence experienced by the many lesbian identifying participants.