A new exhibition ‘Somnyama Ngonyama’ by South African photographer and visual activist Zanele Muholi is running at the Autograph ABP gallery in London from 14th July to 28th October Muholi is a self-proclaimed visual activist who is known for her advocacy work on behalf of the LGBTI community in South Africa, particularly with regards to re-presenting the black lesbian community.
Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates from Zulu as ‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’, features ongoing self-portraits from the South African photographer. The exhibition is comprised of more than 60 photographs, each intended to spark debate on human rights, social justice and contested representations of the black body. Elements of the collection act as a powerful political commentary on South Africa’s history, with references to the2012 Marikana massacre, as she wears miners goggles and hat in one image. Whilst another calls to mind apartheid era punishment of necklacing – depicting Muholi with tyres around her neck. Other images hold a more different dimension, referencing personal challenges she has faced in her life.
All appear politically and psychologically charged, a characteristic which has caused some controversy in South Africa. A South African government minister is reported to have walked out of one of her exhibitions, lamenting it as ‘immoral’. She has also been the target of burglary, when computer files documenting the funerals of 3 lesbian women who were murdered in South Africa were stolen.
Quoted in The Guardian she admits she is scared but says: “This work needs to be shown, people need to be educated, people need to feel that there are possibilities”
Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is at Autograph ABP, London EC2A until 28th October 2017