100 World Class South Africans: Zanele Muholi

2013-07-15 12:00

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Shining a light in the dark

When ‘Inkanyiso’ (‘Illumination’) opened at the Stevenson Gallery in 2011, hordes of women in sharp, boyish outfits or with shaved heads gathered round a figure exhorting the crowd with a rallying cry of ‘Sibaningi!’ (‘There are many of us’).

Not your usual gallery-going crowd. But Zanele Muholi is not your usual artist.

She’s a ‘visual activist’, fighting prejudice and documenting the lives – and deaths – of her community. It’s a siege role she’s been forced to take on in a country where lesbians are ‘correctively’ raped.

Since 2004, her work and message have spread to Nigeria, Vienna, Milan and London. In 2009, Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xingwana called Muholi’s work ‘immoral, offensive and going against nation building’.

In 2011, Muholi’s documentary Difficult Love was the audience choice of best short film at the Africa in the Picture Festival in Amsterdam.

Last year, five years’ worth of photos and video footage (and, oddly, nothing else) were stolen from her flat, but Muholi went ahead with her Faces and Phases project at Documenta 13, the prestigious festival of contemporary art in Kassel, Germany.

She has things to say and show; she’s given a face and a voice to a marginalised and bullied community, and she’s putting us all squarely ‘in the picture’.

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