As an insider within the black lesbian community and a visual activist, I want to ensure that my community, especially those lesbian women who come from the marginalized townships, are included in the women’s ‘canon’
Depictions of the duality of love and pain, tenderness and suffering. Captured in the creases of the canon. The strength of a subversive gaze. The Tate Modern recently announced that they will be presenting the first major retrospective of Zanele Muholi’s work in the UK. The show hopes to exhibit the full extent of their art and activist practice and is scheduled from the 29th of April to the 18th of October 2020. Although already established, this presents a prestigious opportunity for Muholi’s work to be experienced by an even larger audience.
Muholi’s work disrupts the South African context in which public discourse around gender and sexuality remain controversial and contested – despite the country’s progressive constitution. The lives of LGBTQI+ people are continually subject to threats of heinous violence. Instances of rape and murder cases rarely result in convictions or prosecutions. However, although not exclusive to this context, their work brings these issues to light with both tenderness and urgency.
In addition, Muholi’s poignant photographs attempt to shift the conventions of the gaze and ‘difference the canon’. Scholar Kylie Thomas writes that Muholi’s work, “render visible the complexity of lesbian lives. However, this brave and politically necessary task is not the sum of her work. The import of her current photographs lay in how they both bare witness and contest the ways in which the lives of queer subjects are made invisible and their deaths “ungrievable”. Their narrative expressions of ‘corrective-rape’ in the telling of lived experiences, show these hideous acts as attempts to restore the order of patriarchy.
Their works continually complicate race with queerness – through developing their own visual archive. Although, South African activist Zethu Matebeni describes how, “Muholi’s rich visual archive is not limited to black queer politics but has wider traction on identity politics and visual aesthetics. It offers us the scope and opportunity to theorize and retheorize identity politics and consciousness.” She goes on to say that, “her art not only exposes identity politics to scrutiny but also portrays art for political imagination. Muholi’s visual work intelligibly offers us a powerful position from which to look and see ourselves as subjects with the agency to transform and create political and social change.”