Exhibitions

Zanele Muholi
Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail, the Dark Lioness

28 April - 24 June 2018

New Art Exchange

Nottingham, UK

Touring exhibition


In this touring exhibition by Autograph ABP, South African visual activist Zanele Muholi presents their ongoing self-portrait series Somnyama Ngonyama (meaning Hail, the Dark Lioness in isiZulu, one of the eleven official languages in South Africa). The exhibition comprises more than 75 photographs with Muholi using their body as a canvas to confront the politics of race and representation in the visual archive.

“I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged ‘other’. My reality is that I do not mimic being black; it is my skin, and the experience of being black is deeply entrenched in me. Just like our ancestors, we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear.” - Zanele Muholi

Taken primarily between 2014 and 2017, each portrait in Somnyama Ngonyama poses critical questions about social justice, human rights and contested representations of the black body. Muholi’s self-reflective and psychologically charged portraits are unapologetic in their artistry as they explore different archetypes / personae and offer visual reflections inspired by personal experiences and socio-political events. By increasing the contrast in the dark complexion of their skin, Muholi interrogates complex representations of blackness and being, beauty and desire. Gazing defiantly at the camera, Muholi continuously challenges the viewer’s perceptions, while firmly asserting their cultural identity on their own terms.

Ready-made objects and found materials are transformed into culturally loaded props, merging the political with the aesthetic – often commenting on specific events in South Africa’s recent history. Scouring pads and latex gloves address themes of domestic servitude, while simultaneously alluding to sexual politics, violence against black bodiesand the suffocating prisms of gendered identity. Rubber tires, electrical cords or cable ties reference forms of social brutality and capitalist exploitation, and powerfully evoke the plight of workers – maids, miners and members of different disenfranchised communities. Using a range of artefacts – from chopsticks, can lids and safety pins to plastic bags or polythene wrapping – Muholi draws attention to urgent environmental issues and toxic waste. Accessories such as cowrie shells or beads highlight Western fascinations with clichéd, exoticised representations of African cultures and people as well as the global economies of migration, commerce and labour.

Curated by

Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail, The Dark Lioness is curated by Renée Mussai, Senior Curator and Head of Archive & Research at Autograph ABP.

About Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi was born in 1972 in Umlazi, Durban, and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Muholi sees their practice as visual activism to effect social change. Over the past decade, they have become known globally with Faces and Phases, a pioneering portrait photography of South Africa’s LBTQI communities. Muholi co-founded the Forum of Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and founded Inkanyiso (www.inkanyiso.org), in 2009 a forum for queer visual activist media.

Muholi studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and holds an MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University, Toronto. They are an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, and has been the recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award and the Carnegie Fine Prize.

Muholi was included in the South African pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013) and took part in the São Paolo Biennial (2010) and documenta 13, Kassel (2013). Recent solo exhibitions include the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2015); Rencontres D’Arles (2016); and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2017). Their photographs are represented in the collections of Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Guggenheim, New York; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Walther Collection New York/Neu-Ulm; Tate Modern, London; and others. Muholi is represented by Stevenson Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.

Directions and opening times

Address
New Art Exchange
39 – 41 Gregory Boulevard
Nottingham NG7 6BE

Gallery hours
Mon – Fri: 9am – 6pm
Sat: 10am – 5pm
Sun: 10am – 4pm