By Thobeka Bhengu
As South Africa was celebrating Freedom Day on the 27th of April 2019, ten days before the South African National Elections, just a few days after the severe flooding at Muholi’s hometown, Durban, South Africa; Muholi and friends headed to New York City to attend the annual Amref Artball honoring Sir Zanele Muholi with The Rees Visionary Award in Brooklyn, New York City.
The Rees Visionary award is bestowed to artists that have created exceptional work that educates and inspires. The Artball is a celebration of African cultures, art including an art auction to raise funds for Amref health programs. The event marked the third time that Muholi received an award in New York City. In 2016 the visual activist was honoured with the prestigious ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism as well as Africa’S Out! Courage and Creativity Award.
The programme for the evening included a conversation with Kimberly Drew, art auction, Muholi’s video presentation and the ball or evening entertainment. To kick off the evening, Sir Muholi sat down for a talk with Kimberly, who is a curator of Black Art and Experiences. Kimberly sat with Muholi to discuss how Muholi became a visual activist and the significance of documenting LGBTI+ people and archiving stories of black queer people in South Africa. They also spoke about the importance of language and how we have failed deaf queer people of colour in our queer language. The conversation also looked at how Muholi has broadened their scope of activism by shifting focus to the education of black youth by sharing photographic skills with young people from underprivileged communities in KwaZulu-Natal under the Mobile School of Photography project.
Muholi further spoke about the responsibility of the artist in the community and the world as narrators in their own right; where they addressed and highlighted the power of collectivism, which entails sharing information, sharing knowledge and resources with other artists. In addressing these issues, the new project that Muholi has borne as a result of trying to share information and resources is currently underway where Muholi has commissioned more than 25 Durban based artists to interpret Muholi’s Somnyama Ngonyama portraits.
To close off the conversation, Muholi invited attendees interested in partaking in any of the projects to come to South Africa and share their skills and time with the young people that Muholi and the larger Inkanyiso team are working within Durban, South Africa.
The Artball attracted a full house of people and as the evening went on, more people kept coming in. The Amref Health Africa Group CEO, Dr Githinji Gitahi presented the award to Muholi after the video presentation of Muholi’s work. The Rees Visionary Award is meant for people who use their power to inspire and empower and was accepted by Muholi as the team and family accompanying them ululated and sang ‘Zizojika Izinto’, which is a struggle song that assures that things will change. A song befitting this auspicious evening and this honour bestowed on Muholi. The visual activist accepted the award and dedicated the award to Lerato Dumse, who has been a colleague and Muholi’s confidante. Muholi thanked Amref, attendees and the team that accompanied them for being part of their journey and encouraged everyone to keep on buying art. As the formalities came to an end, the ball formally began which was filled with music, dancing and networking.