Artist Spotlight: Zanele Muholi

Somnyama Ngonyama
Zanele Muholi
Exhibition runs: October 23 – December 5, 2015
Yancey Richardson Gallery
525 West 22nd Street
New York, NY. 10011

I first met Zanele Muholi in Arles, France in 2012 where she was one of the Discovery Award nominees and a favorite of mine at the festival. She was very kind in taking the time to talk to me and to walk me through her work (bottom right). Her projects and her passion for giving voice to marginalized LGBT South African people left a lasting impression on me then and her work continues to do just that in her latest show “Somnyama Ngonyama” on view in New York at the Yancey Richardson Gallery.
Read the press release below:

Yancey Richardson Gallery is pleased to present Somnyama Ngonyama, the debut exhibition of self-portraits by South African artist Zanele Muholi and her second solo exhibition at the gallery. Somnyama Ngonyama, meaning “Hail, the Dark Lioness”, represents a newly personal approach taken by Muholi as a visual activist confronting the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive.

In contrast to her ongoing project Faces and Phases, which documents members of the black LGBTI community in South Africa and beyond, Muholi has now turned the camera on herself to make portraits in which she is both participant and imagemaker. Over the last two years Muholi has traveled to Amsterdam, Charlottesville, Durban, Johannesburg, London, Mayotte, Oslo, Paris and New York City, for various engagements relating to her work and dedication to visual activism. It was on these trips that she used found props and simple equipment to rethink the culture of the selfie and the concepts of self-representation and self definition as evidenced in these portrayals of her mood at the time each image was made.

Inspired by family, friends, society and consumer culture, Muholi experimented with different characters and archetypes, drawing on the performative and expressive language of theatre, and the highly stylized archetype of black and white fashion photography. The exhibition images form part of the ongoing series MaID (My Identity) or, read differently, “maid”, the quotidian name given to black women domestic workers. Individual portraits reference specific events in South Africa’s political history, from the advent of the mining industry to the fame and infamy of the “Black Madonna”, to the recent massacre of miners at Marikana.

A number of photographs are processed and printed to emphasize the blackness of the artist’s skin. As the artist states, “By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other. My reality is that I do not mimic black; it is my skin and, the experience of being black that is deeply entrenched in me”. At the core of her photographs, Muholi strives to exorcise the culturally dominant images of black women that infiltrate media today.

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