Zanele Muholi Documents Queer South African Lives In 'Faces And Phases (2006-14)'

South African photographer and visual activist Zanele Muholi documents members of SA's LGBTI community in 'Faces and Phases (2006-14).'

For the last eight years photographer, visual activist and community organizer Zanele Muholi has devoted herself to documenting members of South Africa's LGBTI community for her portrait series Faces and Phases. Sexual orientation and gender identity form a major part of Muholi's work and she focuses her lens mainly on black lesbians and other queer-identified persons living in South African townships to create a positive and rarely-seen record of their lives.

The participants in the award-winning artist's series are framed within the medium of portrait photography, and each black and white image exists to counter the dominant heteronormative narratives surrounding race, gender and sexuality in post-apartheid South Africa. In this regard, Muholi joins a storied list of African artists such as Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibé and Samuel Fosso, who have used portraiture to create spaces where one can either bear witness to their own personal histories or inhabit new ones without fear. As each subject poses confidently in their varying degrees of gender expression, they meet the viewers gaze directly and in doing so subvert notions of queer African invisibility. Her work with this project has since culminated in Faces and Phases (2006-14), a 368-page monograph which represents a tangible visual archive of queer African history. The forthcoming volume contains over 250 portraits, accompanied by personal essays, of gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex persons from a myriad of locales, including Gugulethu, Parktown, Soweto, KwaThema, Gaborone, Harare, London and Toronto.

As one of the artists featured in Petter Ringbom's new documentary Shield and Spear, Muholi is considered part of the new wave of South Africa's contemporary artists. "I'm using visuals as a way of creating awareness. [In] capturing the moments...those truths and realities...the world will learn about our cultures," Muholi says in a video (below) produced by the Human Rights Watch to mark their 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. She articulates the sentiment further in her artist's statement on Faces and Phases:

In Faces and Phases I present our existence and resistance through positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond. I show our aesthetics through portraiture. Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends.

The viewer is invited to contemplate questions such as: what does an African lesbian look like? Is there a lesbian aesthetic or do we express our gendered, racialised and classed selves in rich and diverse ways? Is this lesbian more 'authentic' than that lesbian because she wears a tie and the other does not? Is this a man or a woman? Is this a transman? Can you identify a rape survivor by the clothes she wears?

Faces and Phases is an insider's perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers I have met in my journeys. Some of their stories gave me sleepless nights as I tried to process the struggles that were told to me. Many of the women I met had been violated and I endeavoured not to exploit them further through my work. I set out to establish relationships with them based on a mutual understanding of what it means to be female, lesbian and black today. Faces and Phases is about our histories and the struggles that we continue to face.

Born in Umlazi, Durban, to a working class family (her South African mother was a domestic worker and her Malawian father a day laborer), Muholi was a hairstylist and factory worker prior to pursuing her artistry on a full-time basis. Her blue collar upbringing paired with a passion for gender rights fueled a desire to showcase black female sexualities beyond the binary of gay/straight or butch/femme. Besides Faces and Phases, Muholi's other works are testaments to the multifaceted experiences of LGBTI persons in both personal and public spaces. Her 2007 series, Being, captures moments of intimacy and affection between same-sex couples that stand in direct opposition to the negative and sensationalist imagery often associated with queer South Africans in mainstream media. Though South Africa is the sole nation on the continent to have legalized same-sex unions, homophobia still runs rampant and members of the LGBTI community are openly discriminated against, often ending up as victims of public beatdowns, corrective rapes and brutal murders. Anti-hate crime legislation has been proposed by South African lawmakers; but until it goes into effect, prejudiced and hateful behaviors against LGBTI individuals continue to go largely unchecked.

In addition to her work behind the camera, Muholi also gives queer narratives a literary voice with Inkanyiso, a media collective featuring personal testimonies, anecdotes, and news stories from the people she photographs. Muholi's work has been shown in Switzerland's Art Basel, the Venice and São Paulo Biennales and in solo exhibitions in the U.S, France, Germany, Italy, the U.K and The Netherlands.

Faces and Spaces (2006-14) is now available to pre-order. Watch Muholi discuss her community, creative process and work with Inkanyiso below.

Arts + Culture
Samuel Fosso, Self Portrait, 1977. International Center of Photography, Purchase, with fundsprovided by the ICP Aquisitions Committee, 2004 (19.2004) © Samuel Fosso, Courtesy JMPatras/Paris

These Portraits by African Photographers Reveal the Power In Self-Presentation

We take a tour through the International Center for Photography's "Your Mirror: Portraits from the ICP Collection", which features influential works from Malick Sidibé, Zanele Muholi, Samuel Fosso and more.

The eyes of the young woman in Zanele Muholi's "Anele, 'Anza' Khaba," look as if they're staring directly into your soul. With her arms folded against her chest, it seems she might be putting a guard up or that they might simply be trying to look cool for the camera. With portraiture especially, how far you decide to read into something is up to you, as often, the line between a subject's desire for self-presentation and what the photographer themselves seeks to convey, isn't always clear. These are the types of observations that the "Your Mirror: Portraits from the ICP Collection", sparked in my mind as I strolled through the space with its Director of Exhibitions and Collections, Erin Barnett.

"You learn a lot about yourself and about other people by looking at portraits, but not always what you think you know," she says. We also learn a lot about the person behind the lens. The ICP's exhibit features works from photographers from across the globe, with the mission of surveying "the nuanced ways people present themselves for the camera, how and by whom they are represented, and who is deemed worthy of commemoration." The works of four prominent African photographers are included in the exhibition: the Malian icon Malick Sidibé, Cameroon's Samuel Fosso, along with South African photographers Zanele Muholi, and Lolo Veleko. Their photographs, the settings, and who they choose to document, give us a glimpse into their vision as much as it does the subjects in their photographs (which for Samuel Fosso, in this case, is himself.)

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Our guide to Blackness at this year's fair.

It's that time of year again. Art Basel is bringing its magic back to Miami. The annual art fair that showcases modern and contemporary art, is set to have more than 4,000 artists displaying work across all mediums. The Miami iteration of the week-long fair has become a space for artists, galleries, collectors and countless art lovers to connect, be inspired and party for the last 16 years.

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A 15-Year-Old Nigerian Student Lends Her Voice to the Fight Against Boko Haram With Graphic Novel

Aisha Mustapha's graphic novel about her experiences under Boko Haram was published today for International Day of the Girl.

Aisha Mustapha, is a 15-year-old student from Nigeria, using her voice to tell her own story. The young writer recently penned a graphic novel about her experience fleeing Boko Haram, locating her family and trying to further her education. It's a heavy subject, obviously, but with her graphic novel, she offers a voice for young people directly affected by the crisis in Northern Nigeria.

The book was published today to mark the International Day of the Girl, a day established by the United Nations in 2011 to "highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights."

Aisha's talent for storytelling has previously been highlighted in Assembly, a by-girls-for-girls publication by the Malala Fund that brought Aisha's graphic novel to life, premiering it today in conjunction with International Day of the GIrl. Tess Thomas, Assembly's editor, elaborated on the purpose of the publication saying, "We believe in the power of girls' voices to generate change. Our publication provides girls with a platform so their opinions and experiences can inform decisions about their futures."

Aisha's words were illustrated by artist Simone Martin-Newberry, who had this to say about the process of creating the visuals for the graphic novel: "I was very moved by Aisha's story, and really wanted to treat it sensitively and do it justice with my illustrations. My aim was to capture the real emotions and actions of the story, but also keep my artwork bright and colorful and full of pattern, to help reflect Aisha's amazing youthful spirit."

Check out some excerpts from the piece below and head here to read it in full.
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