Artist Spotlight

“We exist, we resist, we persist” - Zanele Muholi on the Black LGBTQ+ Identity

“We exist, we resist, we persist” - Zanele Muholi on the Black LGBTQ+ Identity

Portraits in high black and white contrast, Zanele Muholi proposes a visually appealing and engaged work rooted in her affirmed ‘visual activism’. To celebrate the beginning of her new exhibition at the Tate Modern London starting on the 5th of March, let’s take a look at this internationally recognized artist and dedicated humanitarian.

Born in 1972 at the height of the apartheid system, the South African artist navigated in apolitical environment impregnated by racial segregation ultimately perpetuating the 17th century Dutch and British colonization, discriminations and oppression of Black people.Officially over in 1994 with the bi-racial governing coalition of Nelson Mandela, the end of apartheid unlocked the possibility for building a new country. Yet, the economic and social legacies of the segregationist regime left long-lasting scars still remaining today. Despite the fundamental and reformist legislative transformations since the 1996 Constitution, the struggle against structural racism and discrimination is more vivid than ever – and especially for theBlack LGTBQ+ community. The violence against sexual minorities are still widespread and ‘corrective rapes’ are omnipresent.

This is in this context that Zanele Muholi places her profoundly engaged work. Making her ‘visual activism’ the core of her artistic philosophy, the photograph illustrates a reflective political message on the historical and contemporary discrimination of the South African BlackLGTBQ+ community. Through the creation of a ‘visual history’ both from its aesthetic to inter-textual implications, the artist sheds light on a community dragged to invisibility by stigmatization, stereotyping and homophobic violence.

“I picked up the camera because there were no images of us that spoke to meat the time when I needed them the most. I had to produce a positive visual narrative of my community and create a new dialogue with images” - Zanele Muholi, 2020.

For the artist, “to face the camera is to open a conversation, to make yourself both vulnerable and powerful at once”2. As a liberating call, her collection of works ‘Faces and Phases’ (2006 – 2016) transcends the frame presenting the black body and its substantial interrogative reflections though a combination of portraits and self-portraits in theatrical staging. Facing directly the gaze of the viewer, her work is an expression of courageous authenticity of one’s identity and one’s empowerment. With this purposefully uncomfortable intimacy, the photograph challenges race and its politics of representation creating a unique and personal approach to Blackness.

“My images are portraits, so if my work is being exhibited, someone else’s existence is also being affirmed. What matters is having a dialogue — with people, with institutions and with history. It’s a collective project of reclaiming space” - Zanele Muholi, 2020.

Her new exhibition at the Tate Modern starting this November is organized in collaboration with the Berliner Gropius Bau, the ‘Maison Européenne de la Photographie’ and the Swedish Bildmuseet (Umeå University). Zanele Muholi presents the full collection of herworks including her four major series: ‘Only Half the Picture’, ‘Faces and Phases’ (2006-2016), ‘Brave Beauties’ and ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ (Hail the Dark Lioness).

As an artist thriving for a visible space for sexual minorities, this new exhibition is a definite and encouraging step forward to first and foremost “being remembered”

Trailer of the exhibition :

The artist on Instagram : @muholizanele

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