What does it mean to be silenced, to disappear, to be labeled, to be misunderstood? What does it mean to know only part of a story? Jamal Cyrus’s canvas resembles sheet music or text with ostensibly confidential—or perhaps merely controversial—sections redacted, referencing state-sanctioned efforts to remove information and thereby potentially alter histories. Does the removal of information keep us safe, or does it keep us silent?
Zanele Muholi, the subject of her own portrait, nearly disappears into the background foliage, visible by the whites of her eyes, which gaze powerfully at the viewer. Hevi, Oslo is a declaration of Muholi’s beauty (and her strength) as a black queer South African woman. Wearing an Afro, covering her breasts, and melding into nature, she dares us to conjure stereotypes of black women, of the “exotic other.” What can we know of someone from a single image, after all? How many assumptions do we make before we realize we have made them?
While Muholi disguises her nudity with her arms, Garduño’s sitter displays her body in a gesture of pride and power as she opens her arms in greeting. Yet she is not a sensuous model intending to please; she remains in total control, delicately veiled by floral imagery, symbols of beauty and femininity. Muholi and Garduño offer two views on the female body, each at once displaying both strength and fragility. All three artworks ask: How much can we know based on what we see? How much truth can an image offer?
From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)
Zanele Muholi’s series Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates to “Hail the Dark Lioness,” is a group of self-portraits the artist uses to draw attention to issues of social inequality, identity, and the representation of the black body in the history of photography. In HeVi, Oslo Muholi’s impressive Afro calls to mind a lioness’s mane. The artist also darkens her skin and brightens the whites of her eyes by pushing the contrast in the image, emphasizing her blackness. She holds a powerful, confrontational, almost uncomfortable gaze with the audience, reminding us again of a lioness. The images in this series are meant to be different selves that engage with the ethnographic tropes colonizers used to create an African type. Further, Muholi asks us to consider notions of the black female body under a male-controlled gaze.
Zanele Muholi was born in Umlazi Township in Durban, South Africa. She studied advanced photography in Johannesburg at the Market Photo Workshop and received her MFA in documentary media from Ryerson University in Toronto. A “visual activist,” Muholi has worked for visibility for the black LGBTQ communities in her home country. She cofounded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women in 2002, and founded Inkanyiso, an organization for queer and visual activist media between 2006 and 2009. She directed and starred in the award-winning documentary Difficult Love (2010), which has been shown at film festivals internationally. Her photography is in the collections of museums all over the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the South African National Gallery, Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Tate Modern. She has received awards from the 2009 Rencontres de Bamako African Photography Biennial and the 2013 Carnegie International, and has received the 2013 Prince Claus Award. Muholi’s work was included in the 55th Venice Biennale and the 29th São Paulo Biennale. The artist/activist is now based in Johannesburg.
From the exhibition: Africa Pop Studio (April 1 – April 23, 2017)