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July 21, 2009, 8:45 pm
Filed under: Press Articles

EXHIBITION: Faces and Phases – Photographer Zanele Muholi’s new photographic exhibition Faces and Phases is a commemoration and a celebration of black lesbians, but it is also an act of visual activism, challenging the current stereotypes and perceptions that exist, writes Annette Bayne

VENUE: Brodie/Stevenson Gallery until August 1

It isn’t surprising that one of the first things photographer Muholi states at the beginning of her walk is that she is a lesbian.

“I want people to understand that this is something that is close to my heart. I am not just a someone going in and taking pictures,” she says.

This series of portraits of lesbian women in ordinary surroundings is Muholi’s ongoing project to document black lesbian women, ensuring a visual narrative of this period, and this subject, exists.

“South Africa has the best constitution in the world and has legalised same sex marriage. I wanted to ensure that we have positive imagery of black lesbians in history,” she says.

“We have fought so many battles in the past and now we are protected by the constitution, so this exhibition is a statement about our existence and resistance.”

Muholi doesn’t see these women as subjects. Many of them are friends or acquaintances, and she describes each of the women as a collaborator in the photographic process.

The women, often stylishly dressed, look proudly at the camera, their eyes in sharp focus. Those eyes, energised and alive, are one of the most powerful aspects of this exhibition.

They look at you with an intensity that dares you to look away and, in looking, you have to see them and acknowledge, without judging, who they are, what they face and the choices they make.

Described by Muholi as the most marginalised group in SA, black lesbians face many of the same problems heterosexual women face, but stigma and the lack of information and understanding means that these problems are poorly tackled by the community, health practitioners and law enforcers.

Besides being ostracised from their communities and often their families, black lesbian women also face the dangers of “lesbophobic” attacks and “curative” rape and many have been murdered or died from HIV/Aids.


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