ZANELE MUHOLI: SOMNYAMA NGONYAMA, HAIL THE DARK LIONESS @ Autograph ABP, Shoreditch

Autograph ABP, Rivington St, Shoreditch
http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/zanele-muholi
Review by Jarod Lawley
Photos by Jo Blackened

Walking through Shoreditch recently, I stumbled across a new, free exhibition at the Arts Council funded Autograph ABP gallery, which has been running since 1988 and specialises in historically marginalised photographic arts.

Despite humble beginnings as an agency, Autograph has grown run its own galleries and education studio, commissioning new work from artists, curating exhibitions and producing publications.

There is always photography on display here, and the gallery encourages in its charitable mission political discussion and debates on rights and representations.

This made it the perfect venue for this new display by Zanele Muholi- a 45 year old South African visual artist who has dedicated much of her career increasing the visibility of black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people.

In her first solo exhibition in London however, she makes a slight side-step- instead now focusing more on the orthodoxy of her own African culture. And this time she’s turned the camera on herself.

In 60 photographs she attempts to pose questions about social injustice and race, as she delivers powerful gazes on high-contrasted black and white canvases. Her stare is unfearing yet unintimidating- honest and bare.

All the images are striking, in your face and yet subtle. Their messages are not always easy to decode, although she uses everyday props as metaphors for each of the photograph’s themes.

Latex gloves and scouring pads represent domestic servitude. Rubber tyres and safety pins point to the brutal and violent events in South Africa’s history. In Thulani II, she wears a miner’s hat to reference the 34 striking miners who were killed by South African security forces in the Marikana massacre. 

Her photographs invariably come from a culture of hardship, but they produce sometimes beautiful and always liberating art.

Although this is a small exhibition, it was worth seeing. Not only are the images visual striking, but there is a great deal of metaphor and political comment embedded in these pieces of photographic activism.

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