By Sokari Ekine | With thanks to BlackLooks
Thursday, January 16, 2014.
In 2012, there were 10 murders of black lesbians, gays and transgender people
in South Africa. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which includes
the death penalty and makes LGBTI people and anyone or organisation that
supports or helps them, into illegal citizens, has once again been
tabled in Parliament and once again delayed – all in the space of a
month. There is no guarantee that it will not resurface in 2013. In
Nigeria, the “Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill” has been passed
unchallenged by both Houses and is awaiting a final reading in the House
South Africa, Queercide, like other social phenomena is being driven by
a set of social conditions in this case, homophobia, religious
fundamentalism, government inaction and community silence. In Uganda and
Nigeria, religious fundamentalism and a weak and disinterested civil
society are the driving and enabling forces respectfully. These
expressions of the logic of domination are the punishment for daring to
digress from arbitrary norms.
is in this context that Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases exhibition
opened at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg on 27th November, 2012.
Faces and Phases is an ongoing body of work which began in 2007 with the
intention of creating an archive of Black lesbian lives and ensuring
black queer visibilities. Faces expresses the person and Phases
signifies the stages of those expressions. It is a personal experience
and journey for Muholi as a visual activist and the people she
I love about Zanele’s work is the strength of performance, the way the
faces breathe. The portraits are in different poses. One can hear the
voices of those who look directly into the camera. But still, there
remains an untold story behind each portrait. Visible yet partially
invisible. Invisible yet partially visible. I like that. Photographs
capture a moment in history. W.J.T. Mitchell wrote a book “What Do
Pictures Want?” I think we should ask this question when we look at the
photos in Faces and Phases. People and places are layered and I would
prefer it, if we could take the time to unpack the layers instead of
diving in and ripping everything apart. Read my story and create your
own through your imagination.
same goes for Zanele’s photographs. From the beginning the impetus for
Muholi’s work has been on the one hand, to disrupt sexual and gender
norms whilst also highlighting the intersectionality of gender, sexual
orientation, race and class both in homophobic acts of violence and the
response to these acts of violence. Faces and Phases III consists of 60
black and white portraits and as Muholi points out there is a reason
‘there are no smiling faces here’ – their visibility has become a
dangerous one. One that has lead to rape, torture and murder including
some of Muholi’s collaborators. The constitutional right to be who you
are and choose visibility over the closet, becomes a symptom of
vulnerability. Homophobia, hate and inertia become the destructive
powers that ridicule the protection of the constitution.
In her exhibition Isilumo Siyaluma,
Zanele uses her own menstrual blood as a way to begin to articulate and
bridge the pain and lost felt as a witness to the pain of ‘curative
rapes’ suffered by many young black lesbians in Zanele’s own community.
The first piece is a thumb print thereby establishing her truth and her
presence as part of her community. Other photo montages are a ‘mothers
cry’, ‘the judge’, and the ‘defendants in the dock’. We are all
witnesses and we must make our own judgements on how to respond.
work has been exhibited outside South Africa and the continent and this
too has implications of meaning in terms of black bodies and bodies
which may have been violated being exposed in white colonial spaces.
Queer black bodies under the gaze of closeted racism loaded with notions
of black sexuality and desire -always we return to Zanele’s question
“What do you see when you look at me?"
Campaign against violence against women highlighted by Zanele in this video -
Sokari Ekine is a human rights activist, writer and an award-winning blogger. She blogs at http://Blacklooks.org