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  • on 27.05.2012
  • at 09:15 AM
  • by Randa Ghazy

Zanele Muholi: raising consciousness through art 0

Is there a link between the defacement of “The Spear”, the painting of Jacob Zuma which shows his genitals and the theft of five years of Zanele Muholi’s work? Is free expression through art or any other medium under attack from the ANC government. Possibly so.

Many of Zanele’s supporters question whether the theft of her work was politically motivated and or driven by homophobia.

In March 2010, the South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Minister Lulu Xingwana who has publicly expressed transphobic feelings,  criticised an exhibition of Zanele’s work as “Immoral, offensive and going against nation-building,” .  Zanele has been outspoken and outraged over the violence unleashed on the Black lesbian / queer community in South Africa using her photography and film to not only expose beatings, rapes and murders of Black lesbians but to make visible lesbian and queer intimacy, to make the statement we are here and we love and liveThe South African online newspaper, The Daily Maverick  interviewed Zanele at the Open Forum on her work and the theft..

Muholi, a tiny woman with dreads and big, round brown eyes, sits on the floor in one of the corridors, leaning back against the wall. She is surrounded by friends and young gay women whom she had trained and mentored in documenting their lives.

Muholi’s work and activism have challenged the stereotypes of lesbian life, in an African environment. Her photographs and commentary make many people uncomfortable, even angry. Sexuality in Africa is a thorny topic. For many, gay female love is positively radioactive. It seems to make the more conservative among us incandescent with rage.

The South African traditional leadership body – Contralesa – is lobbying hard to have the Constitution changed to once again disallow gay marriage. They want a referendum, and are sure South Africans will reverse the right of gay folks to a legally binding partnership. That is, marriage.

In this heated atmosphere, Muholi’s images stoke the flames of prejudice among many. Her images of love, some might say forbidden love, really provoke the majority of people.

She spoke at the conference about the importance of art in raising awareness around lesbian and issues and giving a different view of black women in general. Ten days before the conference, her Cape Town apartment was burgled and all her hard drives were stolen. Twenty hard drives, her back-up and archive. Five years of photography and writing lost. Nothing else – including jewellery, TVs, clothing – was stolen. “I’ve dedicated my entire life to documenting queer lives and now my projects are gone.”

Muholi is devastated, the raw take of her life’s work is gone: “I feel like a breathing zombie right now. I don’t even know where to start. I’m wasted.”

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