Zanele Muholi (1972 – )
MaID, Philadelphia, 2018
Gelatin Silver Print, From Ed of 5
Image: 27 x 18 ½ in. (68.6 x 47 cm)
Paper: 30 x 21 ½ in. (76.2 x 54.6 cm
Ropes that could bind and constrict are seen instead winding gracefully around the proud neck of a black figure in Zanele Muholi’s gelatin silver print MaID, Philadelphia. An internationally renowned artist and activist, Muholi utilizes photography to explore the intersections of race, gender, introspection, and expression in their work. Muholi’s practice is profoundly connected to the artist’s advocacy for the Black queer community; not only in South Africa but across the diaspora. For over a decade they have documented black queer people’s lives in various townships in South Africa.
In this work, Muholi turns the camera to themselves. A part of the series Somnyama Ngonyama (meaning ‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’), MaID, Philadelphia, a self-portrait, aims at the politics of race in the photographic archive. A composition wherein the subject’s unwavering resolute gaze is the focal point, Muholi portrays themselves in a highly-stylized fashion. The image maintains a softness despite the visual confrontation of the gaze; as the figure’s sable visage anchors the rhythm of the work. In MaID, Philadelphia and related works, Muholi asserts the stakes of racial representation and expression, the conventions of which they feel “[are] continuously performed by the privileged others”. With their camera, Muholi questions the current hierarchy of the art world and fills the vacancy in the related field of documentary photography.