2019 April 21: Muholi to receive Rees Visionary Award

Text by Theo Tyson
ArtBall 2019 – an annual fundraiser for Amref Health Africa in the USA – will honor South African visual activist Zanele Muholi with the Rees Visionary Award.
Named after its late founder, surgeon and artist Dr. Tom Rees, the Rees Visionary Award is given to artists who are creating exceptional work that educates, inspires, and emboldens the viewer through these challenging times. Muholi’s work, which addresses issues of human rights, especially that of the LGBTQI+ community, is vital and powerful. Zanele Muholi is a living icon of activism and social justice. Through evocative black and white photography and documentary films, they provide a politically and culturally charged critique of our society in relation to the Black body and more specifically, the bodies of LGBTQI+ people of color, especially in South Africa where individuals are being murdered for their identity and sexuality.
Zanele Muholi explores black lesbian, gay and transgender identities and politics in contemporary South Africa; 25 years after apartheid, documenting the change and lack of change over the course of more than two decades. For the series “Faces and Phases” (2006-present), Muholi photographed more than 500 portraits of South Africa’s lesbian community.

“The portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive,” Muholi has said, “marking, mapping, and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.” Muholi’s sensitive portraits challenge the stigma surrounding gays and lesbians in South Africa, debunk the common rhetoric that homosexuality is un-African, and address the preponderance of hate crimes against homosexuals in their native country. Among other subjects, Muholi has captured the survivors of “corrective rape”.

In April 2012, thieves broke into Muholi’s Cape Town apartment and stole over 20 hard drives holding years of photographic documentation, suggesting the continued controversy and sensitivity surrounding the issues that Muholi’s works confront. Yet, Muholi persists. The opposition they encounter only serves to fuel their drive to document the lives of those individuals who have been oppressed, marginalized, and brutalized, crafting an immense body of work to serve as a personal and communal archive of lived lives. Muholi is relentless in their pursuit of opportunities to expand the narrative albeit through residencies or new photographic series.

With “Somnyama Ngonyama”, which is isiZulu for Hail the Dark Lioness, Muholi turns the camera on themselves, illustrating their place and perspective on the documentation of their own existence. Curated by Renee Mussai of Autograph London, this series of self portraits have inspired and engaged an intersectional audience. In the internationally acclaimed exhibition featuring more than 70 photographs, Muholi uses their body as a canvas to confront the politics of race and representation in the visual archive. Muholi’s psychologically charged portraits are unapologetic in their directness as they explore different archetypes, personal and collective histories, contemporary politics, and global events.



Somnyama at Spelman 2018

 26 Sep 2018
Dr. Kuumba and the CWS 400: Black Female Body in American Culture class talk with artist and visual activist, Zanele Muholi, at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.

Somnyama Ngonyama employs the conventions of classical painting, fashion photography, and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to critically rearticulate contemporary identity politics. By increasing the contrast in the dark complexion of their skin, Muholi interrogates complex representations of beauty, pride, and desire. Gazing defiantly at the camera, Muholi challenges the viewer’s perceptions while firmly asserting their cultural identity on their own terms. When the exhibition debuted at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, it produced myriad programming and community outreach including poetry commissions and dance performances using Muholi’s work as inspirational guidance and gestalt. Visitors were visibly moved by the works hung on black, grey, and white walls – seeing themselves and their ancestors in the contemporary imagery of historical oppressions and future liberation.


2018 Oct. 13: Theo Tyson with Lyrispect who hosted #SpelZanelePride event, inspired by touring exhibition of Zanele Muholi exhibited at @spelmanmuseum in Atlanta https://bit.ly/2RHzxHB            Photos by Adrianna Clark


Portraiture and self-portraiture illuminates identity. AMREF’s acknowledgement of Muholi’s tireless efforts for an international acceptance and importance of the Black body that is inclusive of the LGBTQI+ community is a catalyst for support and awareness of continuing photography projects such as Brave Beauties as well as endeavors in film. Their arresting work is a contribution towards a more democratic and representative South African black visual history. Through this positive imagery, Muholi hopes to offset the stigma and negativity attached to queer identity in African society.
For details on ArtBall 2019 benefiting Amref USA, visit https://www.amrefusa.org/usa/en/how-you-can-help/events/artball-2019/
theo tyson| fashion + art
social: @ms_theotyson
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This entry was posted in 2019 Rees Visionary Award, Amref Health Africa, Article by Theo Tyson, Atlanta, “marking, mapping, and preserving, Black body, documentary films, LGBTQI+ community, Marginalization, photographic series, social justice, South African black visual history, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Spelman College, Atlanta, transgender identities, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 2019 April 21: Muholi to receive Rees Visionary Award

  1. Kholofelo Linah Mashaba says:

    Morning Madam/Sir.
    I’m Kholofelo Linah Mashaba a 24year young lady, I heard that your so much about your company INKANYISO.org and that it there’s a project for black females where you teach them photography. I love your work and would one day like to be part of your team.

    I’m interested in learning more about about photography and I’m from Limpopo but relocated to Pertoria.

    I hope to hear from you soon.

    Kind Regards


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