by Lerato Dumse
Following successful launches in USA Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York City as well as Johannesburg, South Africa. Oslo, Norway became the first European country to host Somnyama Ngonyama book launch on November 1, 2018. Zanele Muholi launched the much awaited photo book comprising of more than 90 self-portraits. The event featured as part of Oslo World festival focusing on Freedom in collaboration with Kunstplass, a venue for Contemporary Art.
After a brief search using the directions given to us by Henriette Stensdal owner of the gallery, we arrived at Kunstplass, which was hard to miss with the LGBT flag and a huge banner with the iconic Somnyama IV, Oslo, 2015 image hanging Conspicuously outside the gallery.
Having reached the venue on time the gallery team were working on the final touches of the setup process setting up chairs, the projection and most importantly laying out a stack of sealed Somnyama Ngonyama copies. Following a welcome note by gallerist Vibeke Hermanrud and introduction by Oslo World Director Alexandra Stølen, it was over to Muholi who started the evening by presenting a slide show of Somnyama Ngonyama images, giving background and anecdotes to the conceptualization and production of the self portraits. Muholi also gave a brief presentation of other bodies of work created since the early 2000s till present. With the slide show concluded, guests were given an opportunity to purchase a copy of the book and have it signed by Muholi.
Somnyama Ngonyama launches have taken different forms, in Philadelphia it was part of a book fair, then at Spelman Museum, Atlanta hosted it alongside a Somnyama Ngonyama travel exhibition and artist walk-about; NYC had a book party and signing at Yancey Richardson Gallery followed by a conversation and launch at New York University with Deborah Willis. Johannesburg had a book launch with a twist when Wiser, Wits University had a panel discussion by Jackie Mondi, Milisuthando Mbongela and Pumelela Nqelenga moderated by Prof Hlonipha Mokoena with Muholi in the audience responding to questions from the house.
On the day that the book was launched in Johannesburg, in neighbouring Cape Town the Actuarial Society released their prediction that in the year 2100 the world’s three largest cities will be African. One of the questions posed by the panellists during Somnyama launch was how will the work be viewed in 20 years? The more open-ended question is how will the work be viewed should the Actuarial’s prediction come true. Which conversations will dominate, how will racial, social, political and economic landscape look around the globe?
The answer rests partly on where this archive ends up, with ever evolving technological advancements; external hard drives will probably be a thing of the past. The written text that interpret the images in Somnyama is contributed by poets, academics, curators to name a few and are written from different perspectives including admiration, moments of discovery, anger, questioning and responding to known realities.
How the world and South Africa will look in the year 2100 is anyone’s prediction, calculation and guess. According to Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama seeks to respond to the past and the present, time will tell its relevance for the future.
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