An Intimate Look at South Africa’s black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities – Through the Lens of Zanel Muholi

Photo by Dicky Jiang on Unsplash

I hate newsletters. I came to regret signing up to almost all of them, and on one frustrated occasion, I decided to sourly click on one unsubscribe button after the other to make sure all the content – not necessarily pure junk but that too – that I had no use of did not plague my mailbox forever. There were only a few I kept, and the particular one that leads to the outset of this article was Tate Modern’s.

Having lived in London for a while, and missing being there every once in a while, the museum’s regular updates echoed fond memories, like a song you were very attached to and pretty much in love with in a certain era of your life. The subject line of the email read Zanele Muholi coming soon to Tate Modern. 

The South African visual activist – a description they prefer over being called an artist – held their first exhibition in Johannesburg in 2004. (And no, it wasn’t a grammatical mistake: Muholi is non-binary.) Their work draw the eye to South Africa’s black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities that are, to this day, experience immense social prejudice along with violent forms of discrimination. Through their lens, the viewer can look in the eyes – quite literally – of those who courageously stand by their authentic self even if it means risking their lives. We get to feel the intimacy as taboos are silently being brushed off.

I couldn’t make it to Tate Modern this year, but I wasn’t the only one – for a while, COVID might be able to take our physical spaces for art, but we can’t let it stop opening ourselves up to the questions, ideas and foreign perspectives of human existence; it should actually make us hunger for those explorations within ourselves even more than ever, perhaps.

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