Zanele Muholi’s exhibition Somnyama Ngonyama (meaning ‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’) continues their work of highlighting queer, black bodies. Muholi both makes them visible within the art canon while also problematising and bringing attention to the issues those who are queer, and black, face.
The exhibit, at Radisson RED in Rosebank, includes ten photos from this series that take up large panels across the ground floor as well as at the rooftop bar. There are also accompanying sculptures. With this work Muholi says they hope to spark dialogue within spaces which have traditionally been exclusionary. The photos are a series of self-portraits, a signature of Muholi, that exaggerate their pigmentation in them.
Muholi says one of the reasons for this series is: “By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, 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.”
The portraits are magnificent, filled with intensity, and a reversal of the white gaze that colonialism brought to Africa. By photographing themself Muholi makes a statement about whose job it is to archive black identity. A renowned activist Muholi’s work is internationally acclaimed. Somnyama Ngonyama will be on show at Radisson RED for a full year, until September 2023. This doesn’t mean you should delay going to see it though, as it is an urgent and important exhibition. A statement about inclusion, dignity and the right to control how your image and body are seen.