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South African Visual Activist’s UK Exhibition Delayed by Covid-19

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South Africa

A Queer Visual Activist

South African photographer and self-identified visual activist Zanele Muholi celebrates the black queer experience in South Africa by way of portraits (and self-portraits) that capture the beauty, creativity and intimacy of a community facing tremendous persecution and abuse.

Her first major exhibition in the UK — originally scheduled to open in April, then in November, is once again being delayed due to the second UK lockdown in light of the covid-19 pandemic.

Sarah Allen, the Assistant Curator of International Art, Tate Modern, is still hopeful about the eventual opening of the highly-anticipated exhibition, "It (Muholi's work) needs to be seen and it will be seen. We very much hope to reopen in December along with government guidance. A colleague had this really lovely expression to me yesterday, that this is a 'sleeping beauty of an exhibition', and it's just going to wait for that moment to wake up and to reinvigorate the public, and I have no doubt that people will be ready and people will hopefully want to come and see and be inspired by this work."

Black and Queer in South Africa's Apartheid

Born in 1972 and raised in Umlazi, a township on South Africa’s eastern coast, Muholi’s childhood was marked by the racial brutality of Apartheid — a white supremacist regime that systematically oppressed non-white people in the country and whose systems still linger today.

Muholi - on a mission to commemorate the battles and triumphs of her community, has spent the previous two decades creating and tracing a visual history of South Africa’s LGBTQIA+ population.

The collection of images to be displayed at the Tate Modern art gallery showcase same-sex intimacy as well as trauma and seek to empower the queer community — black lesbians, black gay men, black transgender people and all non-binary people alike.


Allen shares her impression of the visual impact of Muholi’s visual art pieces, "Definitely that sense of gaze is so important. In these photographs here 'Faces and Phases' (collection), but also in the adjoining room 'Somnyama Ngonyama' (collection of self-portraits) — so it goes back to what we were talking about there about power dynamics and about the camera and the history of photography: who holds the power? In these images, the participants dare the camera down and they engage the viewer in this amazing dialogue."

The 260 artistic images on display which critique centuries of anti-Black sentiment, oppression and erasure are in line with the recent global racial injustice movement as they cry, "Black Queer Lives Matter."

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