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“Hail the Dark Lioness” – Zanele Muholi’s New Self Portraits Featured in The New York Times

Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases 2006 - 2014Jenna Wortham of The New York Times visited Zanele Muholi at her apartment in Syracuse, New York, in September, where she was on a residency with the photography collective Light Work.

Muholi, who was born in Umlazi, Durban, was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Prize this year, and had her largest solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, called “Isibonelo/Evidence”. She recently began to refocus her work from observational portraits – mainly of lesbians and transgender men, as collected in Faces and Phases – to self portraits.

In the piece, Muholi explains how both politics and her appearance shaped her life. In her self-­portraits, she alters the contrast so that her complexion appears almost black. The series is titled “Somnyama Ngonyama” – which means “Hail the Dark Lioness”. “She wants to undo the damage of growing up in a society that drew its strength from demonising blackness,” Wortham writes.

Read the article, and click on the link for a slideshow of images:

The process dragged on. Muholi reapplied tape, adjusted lighting, played African gospel songs on her laptop. This elaborate choreography seemed to be a kind of prolonged foreplay, a delaying of the inevitable moment when she would step in front of the camera and stare into its lens. We had spoken the day before, and Muholi had described self-­portraiture as confrontational, an inward examination that could border on violence. It requires dredging up dormant emotions and painful memories and then putting them on display. The lengthy preparation bordered on playful, but Muholi insists that it is not pleasurable, but necessary.

“The whole thing of turning the camera to yourself — it’s really not easy,” she says. “Because you want to tell the truth, but at the same time you have reservations for confronting the self, dealing with you.”

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