by Adejoke Tugbiyele
Photos by Terra Dick
Zanele Muholi’s beautiful works are currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
It includes photographs of several dozen black and white portraits of lesbians and transgendered people in South Africa and beyond whose lives are challenged or endangered daily, simply for choosing to live openly and freely.
After years of sacrifice and dedication to telling the stories of South Africa’s lesbian and trans community, this important exhibition is a climax in Zanele’s bold attempt as an activist to enlighten us about how we see and talk about this serious issue of injustice in her native land.
As a lesbian who comes from Nigeria, Zanele’s work has inspired me greatly and continues to empower all who struggle for LGBTQI justice in various parts of Africa and beyond. The fact that South Africa’s government recognizes same sex love on paper yet cant protect its own queer citizens, also underscores the existence of sexism in the country.
Zanele’s work seems to preach existence but also acceptance, where the faces in each portrait speak one unified voice to say – I am here!
In the exhibition, correctly titled “Isibonelo/Evidence,” a powerful wall stands high and painted black, covered with personal hand-written stories of women who have been raped, abused or somehow violated in South Africa.
Each moving tale is an enlightening and visible story we simply cannot ignore. Collectively, they allow us to absorb the magnitude of the problem and see just how disruptive and traumatized South African lesbian lives have become.
The exhibition is not simply a grand statement, but a call to action! I highly recommend that all in the New York area visit the exhibition before it closes. It will be on view through November 1, 2015.
About the author
Adejoke Tugbiyele is an out, queer Nigerian artist currently living in the United States. While in Nigeria she came out onCNN International about her sexuality in January 2014, right after Nigeria signed the anti-gay bill into law. Her work speaks to human rights issues including women’s rights and also responds to spiritual or performative aspects of traditional Yoruba culture.
Tugbiyele’s work has been exhibited and screened at renowned institutions internationally including October Gallery – UK, Goodman Gallery – Cape Town, Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, New York, Centre for Contemporary Art, and the Goethe Institute, both Lagos, Nigeria; the Centre for Contemporary Art, Torun, Poland; and the United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA.
Tugbiyele’s work has also exhibited at international fairs such as Art Dubai 2014 (Dubai UAE), 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2014 (London) and the Joburg Art Fair 2013, (Johannesburg, South Africa).
After earning a BS in Architecture at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Tugbiyele went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the recipient of several awards, including a Fulbright grant to Nigeria from 2013-14. She has appeared as an artist and queer activist on Arise Entertainment 360, CNNInternational, received mention in The New York Times, and has been published in The Huffington Post,
The Feminist Wire and Metropolis M. Her work was recently published in a new historic document for journalists in Nigeria -The Guidebook to Reporting Gender and Sexuality, and she has appeared as a guest on Nigeria’s first-ever LGBT podcast called NoStrings.
Outlook by Andrea K. Scott
Photography: Zanele Muholi shoots down prejudice
by Cristina Ruiz