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Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, ‘Hail, The Dark Lioness’ exhibition openi...

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Autograph ABP

Rivington Place

London

EC2A 3BA

United Kingdom

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In her first solo exhibition in London, South African visual activist photographer Zanele Muholi (b 1972) presents her ongoing self-portrait series Somnyama Ngonyama. In more than 60 photographs Muholi uses her body as a canvas to confront the politics of race and representation in the visual archive.

RSVP for the exhibition opening reception on Thursday 13 July, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Taken primarily in Europe, North America and Africa, each portrait asks critical questions about social justice, human rights and contested representations of the black body. Muholi’s psychologically charged portraits are unapologetic in their directness as she explores different archetypes and personae, and offers personal reflections.

Everyday objects are transformed into dramatic and historically loaded props, merging the political with the aesthetic. Scouring pads and latex gloves address themes of domestic servitude, while alluding to sexual politics, violence and the suffocating prisms of gendered identity. Rubber tyres, safety pins and protective goggles invoke forms of social brutality and exploitation, often commenting on events in South Africa’s history; materials such as plastic draw attention to environmental issues and global waste. Accessories like cowrie shells and beaded fly whisks highlight Western fascinations with clichéd, exoticised representations of African cultures.

Somnyama Ngonyama playfully employs the conventions of classical painting, fashion photography and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to rearticulate contemporary identity politics. By increasing the contrast in the dark complexion of her skin, Muholi interrogates complex representations of beauty and desire. Gazing defiantly at the camera, Muholi challenges the viewer’s perceptions while firmly asserting her cultural identity on her own terms: black, female, queer, African.

"I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other. My reality is that I do not mimic being black; it is my skin, and the experience of being black is deeply entrenched in me. Just like our ancestors, we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear." - Zanele Muholi

A majority of the works in the exhibition are from Muholi’s current series Somnyama Ngonyama are taken between 2014 and 2017. The isiZulu title translates into English as: Hail, the Dark Lioness.

Read more about the exhibition >

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About Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi (b. 1972 in Umlazi, Durban) lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Muholi sees her artistic practice as visual activism to effect social change. Over the past decade, she has become known globally with Faces and Phases, her pioneering portrait photography of South Africa’s LBTQI communities.

Muholi was included in the South African pavilion at the 55thVenice Biennale (2013) and took part in the São Paolo Biennial (2010), documenta 13, Kassel (2013) and, most recently, Kyotographie: International Photography Festival, Kyoto, Japan (2017).

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Autograph ABP is fully accessible.

Somnyama Ngonyama is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
Autograph ABP would like to thank Stevenson Gallery for its support.

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Autograph ABP

Rivington Place

London

EC2A 3BA

United Kingdom

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