Photo album by Valerie Thomas
Quote of the day
Is South Africa a country?
The University of Michigan
Zanele Muholi Speaks at the Africa Workshop at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
It is my pleasure to introduce to you to Zanele Muholi one of the most celebrated South African Visual Activist of her generation.
A South African artist, Muholi’s visually stunning photographs and films document the beauty and love of black, lesbian South African women. They are part of Muholi’s larger project to create a historical archive that ensures the visibility of the black lesbian community in South Africa, of which she is a part. As she writes, “It is important to mark, map and preserve our mo(ve)ments through visual histories for reference and posterity so that future generations will note that we were here.” In preserving and presenting the histories of black lesbian women, she creates a space for the articulation of their subjectivity, knowledge and experiences.
Muholi addresses political, heteronormative, economic and racial inequalities and injustices by insisting on the beauty and humanity of all members of her community. This allows her to counter rhetoric that demonizes lesbians as well as narratives that represent them simply as victims. Having herself been asked to serve as a research subject for “experts” who wished only to document violence, Muholi decided that rather than allow others to speak for her, and thereby serve as the object of problematic and often fetishizing depictions, she would create her own photographs, films and essays. By producing images that show lesbian women as beautiful and loving, and by stressing their important roles as members of communities, families and the nation, Muholi offers direct intervention into economic, political and social-cultural forces that work to silence their beautiful presence and the many ways that they contribute to society.
Muholi’s photographs are portraits of women who love other women. Sometimes they are couples, smiling and embracing in intimate moments. Sometimes they are single individuals, posing for a portrait. In this way, Muholi’s visual activism is similar to my current book project, Vibrancy of Silence, which explores the lives of Sub-Saharan African lesbian women through attention to silence, desire and love, terms which I have chosen in order to shift conversations about lesbian women in Africa away from violence to their humanity. In this way, both of our projects are part of a larger movement to counter discourses that commodify and pathologize black women’s sexualties.
Muholi’s work is of international importance. It has been exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the United States, as well as in South Africa.
Please join me in welcoming Zanele Muholi to the Africa Workshop.
Michigan University is almost done where I shared my work on how I explored visual activism.
Thanks to Prof. Frieda Ekotto for the invitation, generosity and hospitality, let alone her permanent commitment to open up spaces to African experts to share their experiences. She is defending queer voices and unapologetically combating any forms of invisibility in academic spaces and beyond.
We need more professors like her who truly believe in human rights.
To my dearest academic friend and African ‘Foucault’ – Charles Gueboguo, I love you and respect your expertise. Listening to your teachings in Invisibility class forced me to rethink of ‘Invisibles’ in South Africa…
My gratitude to Valerie Thomas for documentation bang.