by Bajabulile Dhlamini
Zanele Muholi is an internationally celebrated , PRIME art practitioner and a visual activist with whom Collectivism and visibility are core values firmly rooted at the heart of their projects. They have five series they are working on, Somnyama Ngonyama, Faces and Phases, Brave Beauties, Beulahs and Being.
All things are possible” has been Zanele Muholi’s mission statement on their projects. They have been navigating spaces that were not accessible to Black community and queer artists.
Somnyama Ngonyama is a series of their ongoing self-portraiture , whose body of works speaks to the social ills associated with politics of race, gender, collectivism and sexuality faced by South Africans, and others globally.
With their Somnyama Ngonyama ” Hail the black lioness” series, having been to the American States and Europe, penetrating impossible spaces for blacks. It is now showing in Africa at Mauritius, International Contemporary Arts Indian Ocean
(ICAIO). This is the first solo show of Zanele Muholi in Africa, outside the boarders of South Africa.
In 2013 they have had the group show in Mauritius at ICAIO and now they are back with the solo show showing Zanele Muholi Retro, featuring their early work ” Only half the picture”, Beulahs and Somnyama Ngonyama, old and new works , Faces and Phases, and Mourning.
To celebrate and commomerate its 13th year, there are 13 images of faces and phases on the wall. A provocative inclusion and conversation initiator for the people of Mauritius, because the Island laws are still demonising and discriminating against same gender loving people, gay and or transgender.
Faces and Phases
Zanele Muholi’s ‘Faces and Phases’ came to being in 2006, 10 years after sanctions were lifted on homosexuality and legitimized in the South African Constitution and just a few months before same sex marriage was given countenance by the High Court. The project inaugurated with just one portrait of Busi Sigasa, which was captured at the iconic Constitution Hill in Braamfontein. That gave birth to more portraits to document history of black lesbians, gender-nonconforming individuals and transmen, which today has the biggest collection of black and white portraits of more than seven hundred, as a living archive of the Continent’s LGBTQIA+.
As an active ongoing project (2006-2019), Muholi’s ‘Faces and Phases ’ turned thirteen (13) this year (2019) as a patron for the excision of hate crimes against organs of the LGBTQIA+ body (ies) in Africa. It lobbies for incorporation and conscientious for LGBTQIA+ identifying individuals within all domains of society. Faces and Phases acknowledges black queer visibility, honours these identities in assurance against the annulment of their narratives on the continent.
Somnyama Ngonyama, “Hail the Dark Lioness” is Zanele Muholi’s monograph from one of the most powerful visual activists of our time. The series features over a hundred of Muholi’s evocative self-portraits, each image drafted from material props in Muholi’s immediate environment.
These portraits reflect the journey, self-image, and possibilities of a black woman in today’s global society. A powerfully arresting collection of work, Muholi’s radical statements of identity, race, and resistance are a direct response to contemporary and historical racisms.
“I am producing this photographic document to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy spaces—brave enough to create without fear of being vilified. . . To teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves—to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”
– Zanele Muholi, Sir
Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is as much a manifesto of resistance as it is an autobiographical, artistic statement. (2016 – 2019)
Zanele Muholi’s “Isilumo Siyaluma” is a collection of works that look at the stigma and violence faced by black queers, gender non-conforming and same gender loving persons in South Africa.
Zanele Muholi’s Isililo 2011 – 2018, is a continuous project in which the visual activist expresses their frustration and pain of witnessing violence in the community.
Isililo is also included in Mo(u)rning and Loss, 2014.
Between March and May 2011, three young black lesbians were brutally murdered in South African townships. Many incidences have taken place between now and then, some cases are left unreported due to secondary victimization.
The women were all under the age of 25 and it is believed that these women were all victims of brutal violence, specifically “curative rape” (and murder) in communities where homosexuality and same-sex relationships are not tolerated.
Activist and photographer Zanele Muholi’s work explores this pattern of “curative rape” and the stories of the victims of hate crime.
The latest body of work Isilumo Siyaluma, loosely translated from isiZulu to mean “period pains”, examines the desperate plight of black lesbians in South Africa, as they face rampant hate crimes and brutal killings.
Muholi explains that their work deals with their menstrual blood and that secretive, feminine time of the month, “that has been reduced within a Western patriarchal culture as dirty”. In the work, Muholi sees menstrual blood as a vehicle and medium for expressing the loss felt when you hear stories of these “curative rape” incidences.
Isilumo Siyaluma (2006 – 2011) was shown at Blank Projects gallery in Woodstock, Cape Town, on 3 – 26 Nov. 2011.