The exhibition presents evolutions in the artist’s ongoing photographic projects, affirming Muholi’s commitment to activism through visual history, It adds interactive and educational elements, as well as an activism wall that shares experiences from the lives of the Brave Beauties - transwomen and gender non-binary individuals. This exhibition invites the public to engage with the alternating brutality and joy faced by the black LGBTQI community in South Africa.
The exhibition takes place as the country reaches its 23rd year of democracy, 21 years after the entrenchment of the new South African Constitution and 11 years since the legalisation of same-sex marriage. It is a stark reminder that legal protections are not enough without the social mobilisation and transformation prompted by direct engagement, testifying to the conviction that the work of activism cannot be finished while violence persists. As Muholi says in a recent interview with Broadly, 'Whenever I'm in any international space I'm not there alone – I'm coming on board as a South African citizen, coming with many voices and faces, to contribute to our South African history. We're putting that queer flag on the map, we're putting that trans flag on the map – we're ensuring trans, lesbo, queer, women's histories are part of the agenda.’
Brave Beauties, a photo-essay featuring transwomen, shows alongside Somnyama Ngonyama ('Hail, the Dark Lioness'), the body of work confronting the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive through self-portraiture.
In a recent article in The Guardian, published in recognition of her exhibition at Autograph ABP in London, Muholi remarks:
"I always think to myself, if you don’t see images of your community, you have to create them. I can’t be dependent on other people to do it for us.’ It is a continuing resistance ‘because we cannot be denied existence. This is about our lives, and if queer history, trans history, if politics of blackness and self-representation are so key in our lives, we just cannot sit down and not document and bring it forth."
Somnyama Ngonyama is currently on show at two institutions – the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and Autograph ABP, London - as well as at various festivals and biennials. The works in this series are taken at different locations around the world, incorporating everyday objects in unusual ways to spark conversations about historical events, contemporary phenomena and personal occurrences. These photographs foster particular resonance in a city mired in the politics of race, space and commodity.
Some of the Brave Beauties are exhibited as wallpapers for the first time. The use of elevated scale in this series spotlights each individual’s ownership of space, presenting images with a heroic slant, defying homogenous narratives of victimhood.
Despite differences in style, method and formal articulation, these bodies of work are bound together by unifying thematic concerns – celebrating and bearing witness to the continued survival and resistance of black queer, lesbian and transgendered individuals in the face of pervasive physical and structural violence.
Muholi has exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in New York; Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris; Kyotographie International Photography Festival in Japan; Prince Claus Fund Gallery in Amsterdam; the Berlin Biennale; dOCUMENTA (13) in Germany; the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in Italy; the 29th São Paulo Biennial; Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein and the Guggenheim Bilbao, among other museums and institutions.