South African artist and activist Zanele Muholi (born in Umlazi, Durban, in 1972; lives and works in Johannesburg) has, for much of their artistic career, been devoted to recording members of their country’s black queer and trans community through the lens of her camera, “for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond.”
In 2012, Muholi held their major photography exhibition, Somnyama Ngonyama [Hail The Dark Lioness]. This body of work consists of self-portraits, through which the LGBTI community draws out their own history: a history of blackness, a political history of South Africa, a history of their gender. The result engages the gaze: standing before Muholi’s pictures, the spectator is forced to ponder the why, how, when, and where of these images’ construction.
“Too often I find we are being mimicked, and distorted, by the privileged other. We are here, we have our own voices, we have our own lives. Hence I am producing this photographic document to encourage people to be brave enough to occupy spaces, brave enough to create without fear of being vilified, brave enough to take on that visual text, those visual narratives,” says Muholi.
Chilling in their beauty, with a clear ringing note of protest, every photograph in Somnyama Ngonyama becomes a courageous manifesto of resistance, demanding visibility for those deprived of it, as well as a declaration of human and gender rights, and of the importance of memory in building the future.