by Lerato Dumse
A packed Hiddingh Hall delivered an enthusiastic round of applause to welcome Zanele Muholi on stage after being introduced by Jay Pather. University of Cape Town (UCT) students, lecturers and members of the public started their Friday evening (May 20 2016) by attending Muholi’s lecture. The event was part of the Any Given Sunday; a Project co-curated by Riason Naidoo which happened in the Mother City featuring various artists and Muholi participation project is called Bathini, (What are they saying).
Institute for Creative Art (ICA) formerly known as Gipca hosted the Great Texts/Big Questions lecture series.
“Thank you so much to all of you for coming out tonight,” Muholi said while appreciating the presence of people at the hall. Before declaring as she has done in the past that she “thinks in her first language IsiZulu when she is excited.” The photographer had a solution to the language barrier; she proposed to mix the two languages and requested Dr Zethu Matebeni, a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at UCT to assist her.
“I’m shaking because for one, Cape Town reminds me of many situations, losing my content, having to start again and trying to make sense of what was going on.” Muholi then shared a CPT experience when she was told by a strange young white woman to look after her (strange woman’s) bag. Muholi then shared a CPT experience when she was told by a strange young white woman to look after her (strange woman’s) bag. Muholi said the request reminded her of her own mother who worked as a domestic worker.
“My life began more than 10 years ago when I lived in Johannesburg. I was disturbed by not seeing many images of black LGBTI people in Johannesburg and surrounding areas,” Muholi said during her 2016 artist talk in Cape Town.
The then placard holding activist decided to switch from holding the board to holding the camera, while following the advice, “If you don’t see yourself in anything, you have to create or produce, you cannot blame anybody for your absence.” Muholi the photographer then started speaking to friends and friends of friends asking if they could stand in front of her camera and have their images taken. The award-winning photographer then reiterated that at that time she didn’t know her work would end up in big spaces such as the Venice Biennial and Documenta. A glass breaks while Muholi reveals that she was “scared to own the word or term photographer.” This she adds is because it never occurred to her that one day she would be googled as a South African photographer.
The talented artivist admits, to have produced “a number of wrong images” and
flopping along the way. Muholi credited Gender & Visuality conference held at University of Western Cape (UWC) as having “defined her in so many ways” when she exhibited her work there in 2004. Which resulted in Muholi working with Stevenson Gallery.
Holding a copy of Faces and Phases 2006-14 publication the photographer explained that she calls her photo book a Bible, because “it is the same size as the Bible.”
Pain and many other documented hate crime scenes convinced Muholi to “backtrack a little bit and deal with Zanele’s personal issues,” and still identifies as visual activist. Declaring that she is not from royalty, even though she calls her latest project Somnyama Ngonyama. Before presenting her latest body of work, Muholi reminded the audience that she was still concerned with visual activism, dealing with politics of self-representation and photographing herself.
“There is a thin line between race, gender and sexuality.” Muholi confessed, “each and every picture relates to a particular case in history.”
Somnyama became a serious project in 2014, even though some images were captured before. Referring to American cases such as that of Sandra Bland’s, and a personal narrative of being a “black sheep of the family because of being homosexual.” A special image responding to the racial insults that Penny Sparrow spat out in January after seeing many African people in a Durban beach, referring to them as monkeys.
Abongile Matyila’s images are some of the visuals shown by Muholi, who shared how it was some of the images that survived the notorious burglary at her flat in Cape Town.
“In 2002 the first gay couple got married in Kwa-Thema Springs, Kgompi and Charles Januarie, and they are some of the few history makers in our country.” Muholi then spoke about documenting Charles’s funeral on the 30th March 2016. She then spoke about the couple’s follow up images captured five years later. That was followed by photos of the late Magesh Zungu who was one of the participants that Muholi opened with while talking about Faces and Phases.
Drawing from utterances by a Shembe pastor in Isolezwe Newspaper stating that the drought in KwaZulu-Natal province was caused by homosexuality, Muholi tackled ignorance that randomly displays itself in the South African community. With twenty minutes remaining, the session was then opened to questions from the audience. An engagement session began while Muholi attempted to answer the questions as best she could.
Old and new friends ended the first evening by sharing a delicious dinner of Indian food in Long Street. Saturday came, even though everyone was exhausted, there was determination to document activities happening in Langa township during the Khumbulani Pride.