What a treat to see Zanele Muholi profiled in the Weekend FT.  It brought to mind my first encounter with the riveting work of this activist-photographer …

GRAHAMSTOWN, July 8 2016: In this challenging two-part exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery as part of the annual National Arts Festival, photographer and activist Zanele Muholi provokes and pleases as she explores different ways of asking the question, Am I beautiful?

The first part, Somnyama Ngonyama (an isiZulu phrase which translates to Hail, the dark lioness), is a collection of self-portraits taken as Muholi travelled the world. They shout defiantly, “I am me!” And even, “I am beautiful aren’t I!”

The exaggerated blackness of her skin in the pictures brings ideas about race and the politics of pigment to the fore, creating a whole subset of questions for the viewer.

Muholi writes: “The black face and its details become the focal point, forcing the viewer to question their desire to gaze at images of my black figure. By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other.”

Invite to the opening of Muholi’s show at Stevenson Gallery, Woodstock, August 2017

The photographs of Muholi dressed up as different personas are taken in such glittering cities as Paris, New York and London and reference black and white portraiture and fashion photography. What’s not to love, you might ask.

The second part of the exhibition, 12 portraits of queer beauty queens, men and women – taken in South African townships, villages and cities – seem to ask, “Please look at me … Ummm … Do you think I am beautiful?”

These are 12 different kinds of beautiful, all of them tapping into a gorgeousness that transcends the environment, an ill-fitting swimsuit, a few extra kilos, a scarred leg. They are all out and proud, beautiful in a most vulnerable way.

Curated by Lerato Bereng, this exhibition shows a broad spectrum of the arc of beauty.

*The 12 photographs are part of the body of work for which Muholi is best known, her life-long project of documenting members of the black LGBTQIA community of South Africa. Brave Beauties catalogues hate crimes against the LGBTIQIA community and seeks to raise awareness about corrective rape and other violent crimes against the community.

 

Same-same; so different …

Through a series of photographs and short essays Alexia Beckerling takes the reader on a private, magical soul-searching journey to wholeness…

A goddess in a headdress

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