New exhibition by South African photographer & activist Sir Zanele Muholi opens at the Uitstalling Gallery

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New exhibition by South African photographer & activist Sir Zanele Muholi opens at the Uitstalling Gallery
Installation View of 'Hail the Dark Lioness' by Zanele Muholi, a deeply personal exploration of the black queer experience.

GENK, BELGIUM.- The newest exhibition by South African photographer and activist Sir Zanele Muholi 'Hail the Dark Lioness' is currently on view since October 29th at the Uitstalling Gallery in Genk, Belgium.

In this show, that ends on January 29th, 2023, Muholi shows 30 self-portraits that repeatedly feature different characters and archetypes that refer to specific events in South Africa's political history. Known for documenting the LGBTQIA+ community from South African townships, Muholi becomes both the participant and the image-maker in this series. By exaggerating the darkness of her complexion, Muholi is reclaiming their blackness and offsetting the culturally dominant images of black women in today's media.

In Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates from isiZulu to ‘Hail The Dark Lioness’, Muholi playfully employs the conventions of classical painting, fashion photography, and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to rearticulate contemporary identity politics. Each black and white self-portrait asks critical questions about social (in)justice, human rights, and contested representations of the Black body.

Taken in cities across Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa, Muholi's socially engaged, radical brand of self-portraiture transforms found objects and quotidian materials into dramatic and historically loaded props, merging the political with the personal, aesthetics with history - often commenting on specific events in South Africa’s past, as well as urgent global concerns pertinent to our present times: scouring pads and latex gloves address themes of domestic servitude while alluding to sexual politics, cultural violence, and the often suffocating prisms of gendered identities. Rubber tires, cable ties, or electrical cords invoke forms of social brutality and exploitation; sheets of plastic and polythene draw attention to environmental issues and global waste, while accessories like cowrie shells and beaded fly whisks highlight Western fascinations with clichéd, exoticized representations of African cultures. Throughout the series, the dark complexion of Muholi’s skin becomes the focal point of profound visual interrogations into matters of beauty, pride, desire, self-care and the many interlinked phobias, and isms navigated daily such as homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, racism, and sexism.

Zanele Muholi self-identifies as a visual activist, and their development as a photographer is deeply intertwined with their advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa and beyond. Muholi has produced a number of photographic series investigating the severe disconnect that exists in post-apartheid South Africa between the equality promoted by its 1996 Constitution and the ongoing bigotry toward and violent acts targeting individuals within the LGBTQ community. As an ensemble, Muholi’s images display the depth and diversity of this group in South Africa and in various countries that the artist has visited.

Solo exhibitions of Muholi’s work have been hosted by Brooklyn Museum, New York (2015); Kulturhistorek Museum, Oslo (2016); Autograph ABP, London (2017); Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2017); Museo de Arte moderno de Buenos Aires (2018) and Tate Modern (2021). Her work has been featured in Vogue, Dazed and Contemporary&.

Uitstalling Art Gallery deals in a distinctive combination of painting, drawing and sculpture. The Uitstalling aims for a mix of international established and emerging artists that exceed the ordinary limits of art. The locations for ‘Uitstalling’ are chosen carefully in the east of Belgium. They are perfect spots to experience contemporary art in combination with an intriguing environment.

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New exhibition by South African photographer & activist Sir Zanele Muholi opens at the Uitstalling Gallery

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