And then you see yourself: Zanele Muholi
2 September 2020 – 18 January 2021
Zanele Muholi, born in 1972 in Durban, is a self-described visual activist, working primarily through photography. Their stated mission is to “re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond”. This mission has manifested in their practice in various ways, but a persistent theme within Muholi’s artworks is their meditations on the nature of identity. Identity can be understood as both a deeply personal sense of self, and as expressions of the self to others. And then you see yourself looks at the most recent Somnyama Ngonyama series through the lens of Muholi’s earlier works. Loosely chronological, a narrative about racial identity through self-portraiture unfolds over two decades, beginning in intimate, domestic, and sacred private space, and shifting to the public domain. The exhibition opens with a video entitled EyeMe (2012), a grid of staring eyes, which sets the tone for a consideration of the nature of seeing and being seen. Intended as a recognition of victims of violence, the work was made in the year of the Marikana massacre and other acts of brutality. It highlights the tension between personal vision, legislative witnessing and systemic blind spots. The exhibition follows a path leading from intimate snapshots, portraying personal notions of identity, to visually refined portraits of a shapeshifting, mythologised subject located in the public imagination. It is a journey from private domain into public sphere. Throughout the exhibition there is a consideration, not just of Muholi’s identity, but of our own identities and the ways in which we construct them and change them based on who is looking. Muholi’s work as a visual activist advocates for the human rights of Queer and Black people, but it does so by confronting audiences with their own façade and their own gaze.
Photo: Michael Hall, Cape Town.