OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrates African women who are making waves, shattering ceilings, and uplifting their communities.
I had the pleasure of viewing South African artist Zanele Muholi's exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum last year. With her use of photography, short film and mixed media, Muholi invites us into the world of black lesbian and gay identities in South Africa. It is an intimate, honest, confrontational experience: I remember seeing a high wall decorated with the painful words of lesbian women who've been abused, assaulted and harassed for their sexuality, like a chalkboard filled with disheartening lessons. Lessons no one should have to learn.
There were portraits of newly wed lesbian couples, a blurry video of Muholi making love to her partner, their skin tones melting into each other like honey in tea, and a coffin—although I don't remember what it looked like, I remember how jarring it was, resting there while visitors chose to dismiss or interact with it.
Muholi, who is described as a visual activist, succeeds at expressing the beauty and burden of being queer, in a society that has such polarizing perceptions on the LGBTQIA community. Her work documents hate crimes against black lesbians in South Africa, as well as joyous and candid depictions of black lesbian life. She's received controversial criticism for her work and in 2012, her home was robbed—the thieves stole footage of crimes she documented. Being an activist-artist comes with its risks, but I am proud and moved that she continues to do the necessary work to enforce social and cultural change—and is being recognized for it.