Muzane’s Weblog

Provocative images that push the boundaries
July 17, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: Press Articles

by Edward Tsumele

SHE has loomed large in Johannesburg’s thriving underground culture. For a long time she looked as if she was a struggling arty type.

zanele's portrait

zanele's portrait

But struggling artist she certainly is not.
And if ever she struggled, it must have been a long time ago, because she is now one of SA’s busiest, innovative and creative documentary photographers.
She also evokes great curiosity among those who don’t know her.
She is bold and straight-talking and has never hidden her sexual orientation, both personally and through her photography. In fact, she has deliberately focused on lesbian sexuality.

Meet multi-award winning photographer Zanele Muholi, whose exhibition of black-and- white photography is now on at the Brodie Stevenson Gallery, north of Johannesburg.

All the subjects of her photography are black lesbian women who have been captured in provocative poses.
These meticulously selected photographs have a story to tell and the message might not sit well with some , particularly conservative types.

Some of the women are half- dressed and others are dressed, or even overdressed in earrings, ties and hats often worn at rakish angles. Most have their heads shaved. .  You do not have to be told who these people are. Their postures are as bold as their creator, Muholi..
They are loud, shouting for your attention and are unashamedly provocative, eliciting various comments and reactions from the audience, whether gay or straight.
The subjects of her photography are curiously exclusively black, and this appears to have been a conscious decision.
The exhibition pushes the boundaries in terms of what is tolerated and accepted in society.

Muholi deals with the politics of visibility, according to her mentor and Market Photo Workshop director John Fleetwood where Muholi was taught photography.
The lesbians are from London, Toronto, Alexandra, Soweto, Gugulethu and other townships, to demonstrate that lesbians are found on every corner of the globe, even black lesbians.

But in trying to bring this fact home, the photographer has perhaps represented her subjects narrowly.
For example, if she wanted to show that lesbianism is universal she should have perhaps demonstrated this by showing lesbians of different professions and even different faiths .
This could have pushed the boundaries even further, and would have also proved her point.

This could also have gone a long way to cool the bigotry and outbursts of anger and violence often directed at lesbians by conservative society.
Failing to expand the scope of representation widely, she inadvertently seems to have committed the crime of omission, coincidentally the same crime bigots are often accused of.



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