Zanele Muholi: Vukani/Rise
Till 29th November 2015
Zanele Muholi is an internationally renowned photographer and political
activist who uses her classically styled portraits to illustrate LGBTI
life in South Africa. Open Eye Gallery has gathered selections from four
important series in Muholis output, moving between personal under
the covers privacy to public declarations of sexuality:
Zava (2013-14): an intimate series of Muholi and her lover Valerie in
various rooms across Europe. A blurry circular iris around the edges distorts
the room and reveals the couple in sensual embrace in the centre.
Another few images depict the artist lost in the pristine white swirls
of a duvet, curling her hair with her finger.
In 2014 Muholi collaborated on a video-performance piece where scenes
of passionate queer love changed to a row of candle-bearing women in mourning.
On the screen was projected Sifela i Ayikho (translates as
We are being killed for nothing) and harsh rock music was
played to drown out the doleful singing. Performers intrude on the cinematic
experience to assemble bricks inscribed with the names of those who have
died as the result of racial hate. Intimate views and public, devoutly
political grief, are intertwined constantly in her work.
Faces and Phases (2006-2014): taken from a larger book form of around
250 pictures (shortlisted for the prestigious Deutsche Borse Photography
Prize 2015), these 185 portraits depict the gay community in a proud and
highly fashionable wall of fame style. The mood of the people ranges from
sombre thoughtfulness, a seriousness reflecting the ongoing homophobic
hatred towards African gays, to the confident fashionistas in retro outfits
with chic bow ties.
Mo(u)rning (2014): a collection of photographs showing the mournful rituals
during LGBTI funerals. A circle of women tip their red candles together
in a coven-black, undefined space. The glimmering colours are a reminder
that lesbian funerals can be colourful affairs.
Black, however, is the sign of unceasing hatred, a climate of fear. When
exhibited in Johannesburg, this series, originally titled Of Love and
Loss, also included a transparent glass coffin filled with cotton buds
and funeral flowers in the centre of the gallery.
Brave Beauties (2013-14): a brilliant sequence of feminine gay and transgender
men who pose in black lingerie in the style of fashion shoots.
In the upper gallery there is a film about a black lesbian wedding which
is fascinating in connection with the material downstairs.
Muholis photographs are political and she identifies more as a
visual activist than traditional fine artist. She records,
even stylistically brands, the present with a glamorous eye, something
which is continued in her other media forms, like the website Inkanyiso.
Inkanyiso (meaning the one who illuminates) not only publishes
personal coming out stories, prints photographs from the vibrant gay pride
festivals across South Africa and advertises the work of other female
artists, but also documents the sadistic responses to such proud homosexuality,
like posting updates of the trials of men who are convicted of vile attacks.
Muholi has said look at the photographs, read the biographies
and the two acts, switching between the stylish poise of her portraits
and the harrowing tales of persecution gathered on her website, are essential.
Perhaps the gallery could project Inkanyiso onto the gallery wall and
allow people to scroll through; its such an important site.