South African Photographer Zanele Muholi Revisited

By Melanie Nathan, May 18, 2012.

Here are two articles I wrote about Zanele Muholi, the famed lesbian artist, photographer and filmmaker, from 2010 and 2011 respectively. Now that Zanele Muholi has had her work stolen by a thief who removed 20 hard drives from her apartment, I decided to republish these pieces here. For more about the tragic theft please see links below these two articles:-

South African Arts & Culture Minister Walks out of Lesbian Exhibit

Republished on 05/18/2012 from article  by Melanie Nathan first published March 03, 2010;   

A  South African artist has accused Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana of being homophobic, after the Minister stormed out in disgust over what she termed a “pornographic” art exhibition featuring black lesbian couples. The Johannesburg exhibition in August last year had aimed to celebrate the role of black South African women.

Xingwana had been due to speak at the opening of the exhibition at Constitution Hill but judged  the artwork to be “immoral.”  Xingwana had been offended by the work of Zanele Muholi, a critically acclaimed artist whose work explored the identity and relationships of black lesbians in South Africa.

According to Xingwana: “Our mandate is to promote social cohesion and nation-building. I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this.  ”It was immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.”

The exhibition’s curator, Bongi Bengu, told the Cape Times she had been confused by the minister’s actions. Bengu said: “It came as quite a surprise that she was upset; when I conceptualized the exhibition with other artists, it wasn’t our intention to offend.”

This open display of homophobia by a government official is reminiscent of President Zuma’s appointment of the SA Ambassador to Uganda, Minister Qwelane, a known and outspoken homophobe, and one can only wonder if homophobia is systemic in this government where ironically officials takes an oath to uphold a constitution that protects sexual orientation.  The artist said she attempted to create a visual history for black South African lesbians, but struggled against homophobia. “I’m really disturbed;  it’s censorship.”

Muholi said she feared Xingwana’s remarks would lead to hate crimes against lesbians.  “We still have a long way to go, the struggle is not over yet.”

A media release on which the Arts and Culture Department’s seal was printed, stated the exhibition to be “unique, innovative and cutting edge”.

The South African government’s website states that Xingwana served as chairwoman of SADC’s Regional Women’s Caucus. She also chaired the Joint Monitoring Committee for the Improvement of Quality of Life and Status of Women for two years.

According to a News24 source, an Arts and Culture employee has been suspended for allowing the backing of the exhibition. However there are denials that any staff members had been fired as a result of the exhibition, and said the reason had been irregularities in “project funding”.

Based on article by By JASON WARNER “Arts minister in lesbian art photo furore   March 3, 2010”

Zanele Muholi won the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009). She also received a Fanny Ann Eddy accolade from IRN-Africa for her outstanding contributions in the study of sexuality in Africa, at the Genders & Sexualities in Africa Conference held in Syracuse, New York. She has work on the group show In Between in conjunction with an artist’s residency at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania; exhibition dates are 26 January to 16 February. She will also take part in a colloquium on Sara Baartman at the Africana Research Center at Penn State University on 1 March.

BIOGRAPHY

Zanele Muholi was born in Umlazi, Durban, in 1972. She completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown and held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004. She has worked as a community relations officer for the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organisation based in Gauteng, and as a photographer and reporter for Behind the Mask, an online magazine on lesbian and gay issues in Africa. Her solo exhibition Only half the picture, which showed at Michael Stevenson in March 2006, travelled to the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg and the Afrovibes Festival in Amsterdam. In 2008 she had a solo show at Le Case d’Arte, Milan, and in 2009 she exhibited alongside Lucy Azubuike at the CCA Lagos, Nigeria. Recent group exibitions include Museion Collection: New acquisitions at the Museion – Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Bolzano, Italy (2009); Life Less Ordinary: Performance and display in South African art at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham, UK (2009); and Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, USA (2009). She was the recipient of the 2005 Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, the first BHP Billiton/Wits University Visual Arts Fellowship in 2006, and was the 2009 Ida Ely Rubin Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Full CVhttp://zanelemuholi.com

Sweden: Video Zanele Muholi Lesbian Photographer Breaks Boundaries for Africa
by Melanie Nathan, March 31, 2011

One of the pieces I have written and been savoring for publication is about my very dear friend, Zanele Muholi.  Zanele is a rare human being – modest, selfless, committed and extraordinarily talented.  She expresses her love through her lens – her art – and her opinion and soul is solidly portrayed in every image.

As soon as I arrived in Cape Town Zanele and I found each other – always Camera in hand, video Cam and sound recorder.   Her technique in itself a fine art. She is never without her set of equipment and there is not a moment that she does not photograph and film and record.

Zanele has her group of supporters whom I call the “super supporters” – a cut above the fans and the rest of the world which appreciates the enormity of her work.  The ‘Super Supporters’ include a group of young women, lesbians, many of whom have been beaten and raped and assaulted in the most brutal of ways.  However they are alive and they have heeded the call of Zanele.  You see, I call them ‘Super Supporters’ because at no time has Zanele ever aimed her camera at a victim.  In her purview of those who may otherwise have been ‘victim’ – have morphed graduates – survivor s and then  merging Leaders.

She does this by placing a camera in the hand of every young township lesbian who crosses her path.

“Shoot everything you see,” says Zanele – “record everything – you will participate in history – with this Camera in your hand ,”  she insists as the young women gratefully embrace their new-found reason for life and leadership.   She teaches them, shares her art, records their life and empowers with each and every focus -!

“Meza, (my African name) I have a huge archive and recorded so much. I want to follow you everywhere and record your trip to here in Cape Town.”  How can anyone refuse her mission – so pure and loving – and so we went everywhere together – Cape Town Pink Gala, Cape Town Pride, Meetings, Drag Shows, but the highlight of my time with Zanele lay in the most ominous of days – a story in itself – when she insisted that my journey to 
Khayelitsha (1)
where I would be attending the 32nd trial date in a five year period  for the murder trial for Zoliswa, the nineteen year old Lesbian, who had been stoned to death by a murderous group of 20 young men, be routed and experienced true Township Lesbian Style.   The subject of another story to come.

I will never forget that day. The house you will see in the Video below and the young women – all hosted me on that difficult trial day. It would not have been the experience had it not been for Zanele Muholi and the requirement of her lens.

After three taxi-buses – housing 15 singing lesbians – mostly from the same soccer team –  from the Court house and a walk through  slurs, ” I will fix your fucking lesbianism…and more”  we sat in a circle in the same house shown in the Video below, the safe haven provided by Funeka of Free Gender –  it was there that I found out that the young survivors are all poised for leadership – all they need is to be empowered with money for cable (R300 per house per month = $45.00)  and computers,  the other piece to empower these new leaders – in the same way as Zanele provides cameras at her own expense – I realized we must make this available to these extraordinary young women who endure so much, each and every day.    They live in hovel shanties – afraid to leave the shacks unless in large groups – and I had just had a taste of the very hat that flies in the face of South Africa’s all inclusive and equality based constitution.

In the meantime – I invite you to watch the Video below to get a sense of Zanele – I will be writing more on my experiences in the Township, at the Trial. Zanela showing up to the meeting in parliament and my amazing Interview organized by and filmed by Zanele.

(1)  Khayelitsha (pronounced /ˌkaɪ.əˈliːtʃə/) the informal township in Western Cape, South Africa, located on the Cape Flats in the City of Cape Town. The name is Xhosa for New Home. It is reputed to be the largest and the fastest growing township in South Africa.

When we parted ways this month, Zanele was on her way to Sweden – she travels the world for exhibitions – the latest “Difficult Love” represented in Sweden – can be viewed in the interview below.

Zanele’s Web site :- http://www.zanelemuholi.com/
2009 NEWS: Zanele Muholi won the Casa Africa award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009). She also received a Fanny Ann Eddy accolade from IRN-Africa for her outstanding contributions in the study of sexuality in Africa, at the Genders & Sexualities in Africa Conference held in Syracuse, New York. She is included on Museion Collection: New acquisitions at the Museion – Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Bolzano, Italy (until 14 February 2010); A Life Less Ordinary: Performance and display in South African art at Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham, UK (5 September – 15 November); and Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA (10 September – 5 December).

BIOGRAPHY :-  Zanele Muholi was born in Umlazi, Durban, in 1972. She completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown and held her first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004.
She has worked as a community relations officer for the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organisation based in Gauteng, and as a photographer and reporter for Behind the Mask, an online magazine on lesbian and gay issues in Africa. Her work represents the black female body in a frank yet intimate way that challenges the history of the portrayal of black women’s bodies in documentary photography. Her solo exhibition Only half the picture, which showed at Michael Stevenson in March 2006, travelled to the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg and the Afrovibes Festival in Amsterdam.
In 2008 she had a solo show at Le Case d’Arte, Milan, and in 2009 she exhibited alongside Lucy Azubuike at the CCA Lagos, Nigeria.
She was the recipient of the 2005 Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, the first BHP Billiton/Wits University Visual Arts Fellowship in 2006, and was the 2009 Ida Ely Rubin Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Full CV

Zanele – Working with you and watching was and remains a great honor my sister… mel


By Melanie Nathan,

Please e-mail tips for stories to – nathan@privatecourts.com
http://www.oblogdeeoblogda.wordpress.com
http://www.privatecourts.com
Human Rights Advocacy

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5 Comments on “South African Photographer Zanele Muholi Revisited”

  1. Melanie Nathan May 18, 2012 at 4:14 PM #

    NOTE Video will be available shortly

  2. Dr. Rex August 5, 2013 at 10:10 AM #

    A huge force on her own!!! TY for introducing me to her!!! Awesome work … so inspiring and so important!!!
    Reblog:http://hrexach.wordpress.com/

  3. Dr. Rex August 5, 2013 at 10:11 AM #

    Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    South African Photographer Zanele Muholi ….. a force to reckon with!! Would be awesome to have her visit Orlando, Florida!!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. So called Corrective Rape of Lesbians in South Africa should Embarrass President Zuma | O-blog-dee-o-blog-da - January 4, 2014

    […] South African Photographer Zanele Muholi Revisited […]

  2. Zanele Muholi ….. short version!! | It Is What It Is - January 31, 2014

    […] And: http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2012/05/18/south-african-photographer-zanele-muholi-revisited/ […]

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