Book Review by Glenda Tambu Muzenda
Faces and Phases (2006 – 2014) showcases resistance and courage from all corners of the country. From South Africa trailing into Canada, United Kingdom and the Netherlands, the threat of erasing sexualities of black lesbians, and even more so evanescent to extinction, has been so clear with lack of favourable climate to produce this knowledge.
Zanele Muholi took visual activism to another level by producing such an exposition to the world, and building an archive rendering homosexuality not just as a shadow but a reality to showcase.
A world never ready for that which they want to keep a secret, Muholi brought attention globally to an issue that stood to wage resistance that of being and relevant to its society. In 2010, former Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xingwana denounced the exhibition’s phase as immoral and walked out. Unpalatable to some, yet a victorious moment for those of us who only sought to be representative of a democratic society and raise the sexual and body politics to a world still bearing the arms of conformity.
What Muholi brought from 2006 with the birth of Faces and Phases was a processing and an understanding of the body not only as a vessel, but the imbrication of bodies and histories. The body has been marked as a place of politics and Muholi took advantage of this fact to expose the resistance within each photograph.
History is therefore no longer imagined but shows a substantive account of generations in organized resistance to the conforming agenda of society. This deployment of divergence speaks to a political space that not only in South Africa, but world over black lesbians resist conforming, to be relevant and significant in their own skin.
My encounter with Zanele Muholi’s work almost eight years ago has certainly made it clear that we remain to be seen. Identity and gender expression are key issues that Muholi has focused on within her work and over the years there has been a significant transformation of her work showing the diverse lives of lesbians’ world over even within the sample of the exhibits.
As gender and sexual minorities, we remain in combat for another freedom, but can celebrate this freedom of life knowing that we have always been here and that we are no longer just imagined, we are a reality. The photography is powerful and messages speak of just being human, not to be forgotten or erased in this time but be remembered in all aspects of their lives as activists, artists, professionals, mothers, lovers, sisters and women who love women.
Glenda Muzenda is a sociology scholar interested in issues of sexuality and gender in the contemporary context emerging in policy and programming for sexual well-being in particularly the silencing of pleasure discourse in South Africa (Africa). Her writing and research interests focus mainly on sexuality and its significance, pleasure and agency of young girls as well as how to positively engage boys and men in the developmental discourses of gender equality.
Glenda envisions research to produce new knowledge without neglecting contributions that are positive of beliefs, practices and norms in local cultures is necessary to find synergies in the context of sexualities. Her research seeks to engage with gender and social dynamics, politics of gender and sexual politics that sexualities within the complexities of a context it is applicable.
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