Zanele Muholi
Nosipho Solundwana

Lambda print
Image size: 76.5 x 50.5cm
Paper size: 86.5 x 60.5cm
Edition of 8

Zanele Muholiís Faces and Phases is a series of portraits of black lesbian women, which in their frank and disarming manner unravel stereotypical assumptions about dress and gender. Describing the project as Ďa journey of visual activismí to ensure black lesbian visibility, she writes:

Individuals in this series of photographs hold different positions and play many different roles within the black lesbian community: soccer player, actress, scholar, cultural activist, lawyer, dancer, filmmaker, human rights/gender activist. However, each time we are represented by outsiders, we are merely seen as victims of rape and homophobia. Our lives are always sensationalised, rarely understood. This is the reason for Ďphasesí: our lives are not just what makes the newspapers headlines every time one of us is attacked. We go through many stages, we express many identities, which unfold in parallel in our existence.

From an insiderís perspective, this project is meant as a commemoration and a celebration of the lives of black lesbians that I met in my journeys through the townships. Lives and narratives are told with both pain and joy, as some of these women were going through hardships in their lives. Their stories caused me sleepless nights as I did not know how to deal with the urgent needs I was told about. Many of them had been violated. I did not want the camera to be a further violation; rather, I wanted to establish relationships with them based on our mutual understanding of what it means to be female, lesbian and black in South Africa today.

Muholi showed photographs of black lesbian couples, another ongoing series, at Michael Stevenson in June/July 2007. Most of these images, which range from the intimacy of the bedroom through to public displays of commitment, are so quiet in their stance that it can easily be forgotten how unprecedented they are in South Africa and Africa. She also continues to photograph black gay boys celebrating their sexuality, often in very public and flamboyant gestures.

Seven of Muholiís portraits of black lesbians are included in the 100th Camera Austria issue and accompanying exhibition of work from the Market Photo Workshop. She is currently studying in Toronto.

© 2007 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.