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Zanele Muholi

Join recent OCA BA Photography graduates, John Umney and Stan Dickinson, on Saturday 7 October 2017, at Autograph ABP gallery, Shoreditch. We will be visiting the first solo exhibition in London of South African ‘visual activist’, Zanele Muholi, titled Somnyama Ngonyama, loosely translated as Hail the Dark Lionness.
“I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other.” Zanele Muholi
‘Visual Activist’ is Muholi’s own description of herself. She says that photography saved her life and that she uses art as her own means of articulation. This powerful, ongoing series of self-portraits has wide-ranging references and allusions, including sexual politics, violence, gendered identity, South African history, environmental issues and the West’s clichéd, exoticised representation of African culture. Each portrait is a response to experiences and events in her life, and the series merges a high aesthetic, echoing black & white portraiture and fashion photography, with a direct confrontation of the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive.
The exhibition visit provides an opportunity to view and reflect on the work of an outstanding contemporary artist, as well as meeting fellow students and having the chance to talk to two of OCA’s most recent Photography graduates.
To reserve your place please email enquiries@oca.ac.uk or alternatively to request a place on a study visit please click here and complete the form.
For study events that require a ticket, there is a non refundable fee of £10 to pay and your confirmation email will instruct you on how to do this.
Image credit: Zanele Muholi, Ntozakhe II, Parktown, 2016. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York

Posted by author: John Umney
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3 thoughts on “Zanele Muholi

  • What specifically attracted me to see this exhibition was the photograph used in the advert (it definitely worked for me!).  I was fascinated by the beauty in the blackness of this portrait, the depth and range of shades of black and by the technical skill in producing a photograph of such quality.  When looking initially at the overall image in the advert, in a very small format, I saw a beautiful and elegant woman.  Only later, at the exhibition where the photograph is displayed in a very large format, it became obvious to me that it is more than just a portrait of a woman.  The head dress made of scourers transformed the meaning of the portrait the moment I saw it in the huge format at the exhibition.  This revelation actually made me lough at myself, how easily was I fooled by the small image in the advert at which I looked very superficially!
    Before the visit I read the recommended articles and that helped me a lot to understand Muholi’s work as it deeply relates to her activism as a black, gay, South African woman.  Muholi’s portraits convey very powerful historical, political and environmental messages but I also felt that one, especially women, can relate to some of her portraits on a personal level, taking them beyond Muholi’s activism into more universal sphere. 
    My two favourite photographs, apart from the stunning image used in the advert, were Bester I and Nonhle – Beautiful.
    For me, Bester I has many powerful meanings, from the obvious reference to slavery and exploitation of black people to a more contemporary and very relevant today, gender inequality regardless of the race.  With this in mind this portrait conveys a timeless message.
    I found Nonhle – Beautiful especially saddening.  The look in Muholi’s eyes is sad and helpless, not defiant like in many of her portraits.  The slight tilt to her head is as if she was resigned to her fate of having to please others and to this end she has to change her identity by wearing white accessories.  You do not have to do this to be beautiful, your beauty is in your own body!
    The study visit was a great opportunity to share thoughts and observations with other OCA students.  Thank you John and Stan for organising it and for sharing your experiences as photographers and OCA graduates, it was a pleasure to meet you!

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