by Lerato Dumse
“I was in a very abusive relationship and in love with a certain person. When mama came to Joburg after receiving a threatening call, my ex lover told her that she was madly in love with me. My mama said to her, ‘when you love someone you don’t need to be violent or hurt the one you love. So love each other’.
When mama returned home in Durban she informed the rest of the family and asked that my relationship be respected.”
This was Zanele Muholi’s response to a question about whether her family was accepting of her sexuality. It was asked during the Q&A session of her talk with the Photography Associates at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), which is the second largest art museum in the United States. They are an intimate group of about forty or so serious collectors and photography enthusiasts.
“Marking, Mapping and Preserve-ing an often invisible community. With her camera, she’s created and continues to create an archive of positive images of queer black culture in Africa.” is how Liz Siegel, associate curator of photography introduced Muholi to the audience.
The art activist started the talk by reminiscing about the 2006 Chicago Gay Games, US. Muholi attended with the Chosen FEW lesbian soccer team of which some of the players feature in her photography. “I should confess that, the work is not about me, but the people featuring in my work. I happen to be the driver of the wagon that has so many people. I don’t call them subjects but participants, just like you are participating in this discussion right now.
Muholi spoke about racism and Apartheid South Africa, how it robbed many people of their loved ones and distorted part of South African history.
“Today there is a different fight, whereby parents are losing their children simply because of their gender expression or sexual orientation” said the visual activist/ photographer.
Some of the people in the photographs have children. Some are professionals. Some are survivors of hate crimes. Some are close personal friends of Muholi, while others have since passed away. The work is done to ensure that the will be a history that speaks to everyone, and if we speak of a South African history then everyone should form part and parcel of that history.
Forty eight (48) photographs were selected for the Carnegie Museum group exhibition out of 220 Faces and Phases series and Muholi is aiming for 500 as the target number for the lifetime project.
The group was informed that the award winning activist/ artist doesn’t work from a studio ‘nor use of artificial light.’
She showed portraits of herself saying she doesn’t mind being photographed, because she does the same to others and also wants to be remembered as a member of the SA queer community in history.
Two documentaries, one 2 minutes long, commissioned by Puma and another, an
11 minutes long Human Rights Watch (HRW) documentary were presented to the members of the Photo Associates. They were shot in three South African provinces: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Limpopo.
Another question asked was: what is being done to combat hate crimes in SA?
To which Muholi answered,
“Various campaigns have been established, but the large diverse population leads to us pulling in different directions. Proper education of the Constitution in all communities is necessary and needed.
Andria Sandler describes herself as an art junkie who buys a lot of photography.
She’s seen Muholi’s work at different shows, even traveled to Cape Town and loves black and white photography. “I love work that’s political and has an edge and I bought the book in San Francisco” concluded Andria.
Barbara Rueben from Chicago has been collecting art for over 30 years. She was introduced to Muholi’s work at Stevenson gallery in Cape Town and has been following it ever since. “The talk was great, giving a much stronger insight, and her contribution to society is incredible. What she is doing in Africa is very exciting, giving a voice to an otherwise invisible part of society” continued Barbara who said the visuals are powerful.
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