I can’t stop looking at Zanele Muholi’s photographs after coming across her work at the South Africa Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. A photographer and visual activist, Muholi has worked with dedication to provide an insiders perspective and give visibility to South Africa’s lesbians and transmen.
These pictures in themselves aren’t attention grabbing, other than they stand as a testament to the relationships she has developed with the individuals portrayed. And to me they symbolise grit and empowerment.
Here are some of the photographs from her Faces and Phases series, some of which are on display at the Biennale. Walking past a wall of these I confess that only after reading the word ‘lesbian’ in the wall text, did this project take on a whole other meaning for me. Till then it was just portraits of people. Which is what it should be.
Muholi has also made an award winning documentary titled Difficult Love (2010) which was screened last year at Documenta 13. And here are some of her other images including ones from her Miss D’vine (2007) series that are portraits of a South African drag queen artist.
In societies where being homosexual means you need to fight for an identity, it takes crusaders like Muholi to make a difference. But it does make me wonder whether her images inadvertently exotify her subjects, in the midst of them struggling to be treated like everyone else.
All images © Copyright 2011, STEVENSON.