Somandla, Parktown, from the series Somnyama Ngonyama
Artist and activist Zanele Muholi sees their practice as a form of advocacy and resistance, channelling their portraiture and moving image work into a deep engagement with black queer and trans visual history in South Africa. They are acutely aware of the power of self-presentation and the potential political impact of portraiture. Muholi’s photographic work is a forceful critique of the racism that underscores photographic history as it pertains to the representation of Black people. Alert to the power imbalance that often defines the relationship between photographer and photographed, Muholi assertively returns the agency over the image to the subject. In the series Somnyama Ngonyama that subject is the artist themselves. The agency, in this instance, is theirs.
In the diptych Somandla, Parktown, Muholi’s body is duplicated, photographed from both the front and the back. Their hands are raised in each portrait, a gesture that conveys, by turns, reverence and resilience. The meaning of the title is similarly pliable; amandla translates to power and strength while Somandla refers to a deity or omnipotent figure. The body we encounter in Bhekisisa, Sakouli beach, Mayotte however, is harder to decipher. Lying naked and prostrate among a bed of rocks, they fold into the environment. Bhekisisa translates as to ‘look closely’. In contrast to most of the other works from the series, where Muholi’s face defines the foreground of the image and dominates its visual field, this work invites the viewer into the scene in order to discover the subject. Mayotte, where the photograph was shot, is a small French ‘territory’ between Mozambique and Madagascar. While their posture may be passive, Muholi occupies this space assertively.
diptych: 2 gelatin silver photographs
50.0 x 33.0 cm each :
a - left panel, 50 x 33 cm
b - right panel, 50 x 33 cm
Signature & date
Signed Certificate of authenticity l.l. corner, black fibre-tipped pen "Zanele Muholi". Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2020
Not on display
© Zanele Muholi