Pictures by Photographer Zanele Muholi have been following me… literally. They were the last pictures I saw at the The Biennale de L’Art Africain Contemporain: DAK’ART 2012 in Senegal in May this year. It was surreal. I had met and made friends with a Mauritanian Photographer Elise, during pre-election protests on the streets of Darkar and she was exhibiting photographs she had taken of the floods in Senegal the previous year – 2011. It turns out that her exhibition was combined with the launch of Zanele Muholi’s book of Photography and mini exhibition, including a video with sound narration by Zanele Muholi about Lesbians in South Africa. This was the same week in which Muholi’s home had been burgled and hard-drives of her work were stolen from her house.
The cinema at the French Institute in Dakar was almost empty. I had invited one of my friends from the popular Sandanga Markert to come – but he declined, because he did not agree with subject matter, being a devout Muslim who prays five times a day. It was not so long ago that I myself had been a nation builiding lesbian. I had seen all these pictures before. So many times. I knew these faces. I heard the narrative being given by the french hosts ” … in South Africa Lesbian women are being killed targetted.. just this week Zanele Muholi’s home was burgled”
I felt like a fruad, sitting there with a straight face. I was also at a cross roads – debating whether to continue living in Senegal or return home to no job, no place to live, no money, nada. I had worked so damn hard to get those two things in Senegal sorted. I found myself in the early hours of one real wicked morning, at a 24 hour Shisanyama (braai meat) joint I had used for shelter, with sex-workers from Guinea and their Senegalese handlers. They tried to recruit me and one of them tossed me a one mil note (CFA), equivalent to 10 South African Rands (ZAR) or less than one USD to buy food. It had taken all my God given strength to get myself up from that place, to a great space where I had money, work and a comfortable place to stay, one I could call my own. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give it all up again and for what….
Those faces kept slidding past the screen, over and over again, as if to say you are one of us , as if to say come home. It gradually dawned on me that I had a to make a choice. To risk living in a place that refuses to acknowledge my existence or to die in a place that does.
FACES & PHASES: Tuesday 27 November 2012. Catch it if you can @ the German Cultural Center in Johannesburg.
The series “Faces and Phases” of acclaimed photographer Zanele Muholi was included in dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany from June to September 2012 and co-produced by Stevenson Gallery and the Goethe-Institut. It will now return to South Africa for an exhibition at the Goethe-Institut.Zanele Muholi explains: “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 portrait
ure. Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends.
“Faces” expresses the person, and “Phases” signifies the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another. “Faces” is also about the face-to-face confrontation between myself as the photographer/activist and the many lesbians, women and transmen I have interacted with from different places. Phases articulates the collective pain we as a community experience due to the loss of friends and acquaintances through disease and hate crimes.
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?
“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.”