Exhibition, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
South African photographer and visual activist Zanele Muholi photographs the black lesbian and transgender community in South Africa. Her arresting, powerful, and sometimes witty images have focused eyes on a community that remains at risk of horrendous abuse, discrimination, and ‘curative’ rape. Making its Dutch premiere is Muholi’s latest series Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Black Lioness). A series of self-portraits, this work marks a radical new step in her oeuvre. Often experimenting with dramatic poses and lighting, she turns the camera on herself, capturing the multiple roles that she assumes as a black lesbian woman. Through the use of high-contrast black and white tonal values, Muholi exaggerates her skin tone to emphasise her blackness.
As a young woman, Zanele Muholi was a hairdresser, and made the move to photography after taking the Market Photo Workshop, a photo training course established by the celebrated South African photographer David Goldblatt in Johannesburg for young students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Hair and fashion, or at least an awareness of apparel and presentation, would continue to play a key part in Muholi’s work. The photographic sequence Brave Beauties (2014 to the present) is an ode to the seductive art and extravaganza of transgenders, with explicit references to fashion and glamour shoots. In the series Somnyama Ngonyama she plays with the highly intricate African hairstyles that often correlate with culture and identity, by sporting hair creations fashioned from the most banal household items like clothes pegs or scouring sponges. This series is also ongoing, and on completion will consist of 365 self-portraits, one for each day of the year.