Muholi’s picture stories of violence go to Amsterdam
Artist’s work calls out scourge of homophobia
As global tensions escalate oppression and limit human rights, photographers respond by challenging those artistic conventions.
One person who does that successfully is visual activist and photographer Zanele Muholi. Born in Durban in 1972, Muholi’s profile as a visual storyteller is established both locally and internationally.
Her dedication to raising awareness about issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has won her a series of awards. These include Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Mbokodo Award, ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism, Africa Sout! Courage and Creativity Award, and Outstanding International Alumni Award from Ryerson University in Canada, among others.
The photographer is currently participating in a group exhibition called A Sheet of Paper Can Become a Knife.
The international group exhibition opened on Tuesday in Amsterdam. A Sheet of Paper Can Become a Knife features works of 10 international artists from different countries whose work tackles the threat of violence worldwide.
According to curator Selene Wendt, the exhibition is inspired by a poem by Tsering Woeser that suggests anything can become a weapon.
“A Sheet of Paper Can Become a Knife considers that concept and how this can happen without warning or reason.”
Muholi’s work aims to establish an archive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) individuals, to re-write a black queer and trans-visual history of South Africa. The work features entangled histories of violence and oppression conveyed and a collective narrative of social injustice.
“The collection is as much a manifesto of resistance as it is an autobiographical, artistic statement.
“The works reflect on the journey, explore my own image and possibilities as a black woman in today’s global society,” she says.
Just a day before she flew to Amsterdam on Sunday, she launched her book titled Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness.
The photographs highlight the stigma of homosexuality that often lead to rape, violence and murder in townships.
She says: “I am producing this photographic document to encourage people 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.”
In her work, the human form is rendered non-objective, and a singular experience is conveyed through sporadic imagery. She has also exhibited in Atlanta (2018), Nottingham (2018), Stockholm (2018), Zürich, and New York (2016).
Zanele Muholi challenges convention.