ZANELE MUHOLI- Faces & Phases

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Zanele Muholi is a South African photographer and self described “Visual Activist”. South Africa itself has a history rooted in transnational politics, and she was educated in Canada. Her work focuses on black lesbian identities in South Africa. Her exhibit “Faces & Places” was made up of 60 black and white portraits like those pictured here. Her work points out the way our minds work with stereotypes. The descriptor “lesbian” evokes an image, and each additional adjective it is paired with, be it “black” or “South African” or whatever else one might use, narrows that image. Muholi’s purpose in her exhibit was to ensure that there is “black queer visibility.” These women are marginalized by race, gender and sexual orientation, and Muholi wanted to give their stories a platform. Her photographs sort of memorialize these women in that they carve out space for them in our cultural record. Faces puts the focus on the women pictured, and Phases on their discovery and expression of their sexual identity. It’s also notable that she is an artist and a scholar from Africa, doing work with the African people. I think we’re so used to reading ethnographies and studies that are conducted by Western scholars going into places and “enlightening” us to their ways. In a 2013 interview, Muholi says, “There are a lot of black lesbians who existed before me, but maybe the time wasn’t right. Or maybe the politics weren’t right, or were right but their moment became part of the movement. I just happened to be the person mentioned.” Her work adds to a growing understanding of a transnational queer identity. I’m going to link out to that interview, as well as the website for the exhibition which includes the full collection of photographs. ( NB: Most of the above paragraph is taken from her words and opinions.)


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