by Fikile Mazambani
“I feel like I am receiving an award from Singapore”
At the invitation of Ong Keng Sen, the director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), Zanele Muholi arrived in Singapore on Friday, 20 June to be part of the O.P.E.N., an initiative that aims to ‘transform the cultural landscape of Singapore by encouraging audience ownership of ideas, issues and themes’.
At the official opening of the exhibition on June 26, Sen introduced Muholi to the hip crowd that had gathered for the opening night. He spoke of how as much as art was loved for its beauty; art also spoke to social, political and cultural issues, problems that could not be ignored. He explained that the invitation had been extended so as to give context to this year’s theme – Legacies of violence.
A nervous Muholi took the stage, jokingly requesting gum, which is banned in Singapore, to ease her nerves. After acknowledging Sen, the entire O.P.E.N staff and the audience, for making the exhibition a successful possibility, she then delved into her subject and spoke about the legacy of violence hinged on gender and sexuality in South Africa, despite the existence of a Constitution that claims to protect everyone’s human rights.
During the talk, a black and white slideshow beamed on a white wall, silently and softly showcased the participants in the Faces and Phases project. In the adjoining space were the black and white portraits challenged the viewers gaze, were empty spaces to signify those that had been lost to brutal hate crimes or otherwise. This particular exhibition was dedicated to Duduzile Zozo, a lesbian who was killed in Thokoza township in June 2013.
Before the official opening, there was a showing of a documentary We Live In Fear (2013) as a precursor to the talk.In an adjoining space, black and white portraits from Faces and Phases formed the exhibition. On the stairs to the next level where the other series of photographs were shown was the screening of Team Spirit featuring members of the Thokozani Football Club, a black lesbian soccer team from Umlazi, Durban. Thembela ‘Terra’ Dick, who is a participant in Faces and Phases, directed the documentary. On the upper floor, there was a screening of the documentary, Difficult Love and portraits from the Crime Scene and Beulahs series.
Thereafter, the floor was opened for questions because there was a lot of interest around the photographer, her thought process when she works and the exhibition itself; whether she found the reception in Singapore different from her earlier visit to Seoul Korea – given the Asian context, why she photographed the participants using a stark rough background and why she chose to showcase the ‘suffering’ of black lesbians. Those who still had questions freely mingled and asked questions during her walkabout.
The exhibition was a resounding success with so many people’s curiosities being piqued so much that they came out in numbers. About 200 people were expected to be attending the opening of the exhibition that runs until Sunday, 29 June 2014.
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