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Exhibition in Jhb explores black lesbianism

Based on the theory that lesbian practices are alien to African cultures, gender and sexual activist Zanele Muholi's new photographic exhibition uses radical imagery to provoke alternative thinking about black female sexuality

Ndaba Dlamini | August 16, 2006

A picture of a tree stump taken by Zanele Muholi
JOHANNESBURG — Described as "an honest and raw depiction of sexuality, sex and femaleness", photographer and activist Zanele Muholi's new exhibition Only Half the Picture, will set tongues wagging when it opens at the Market Photo Workshop on Thursday, 10 August.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of a book of Muholi's photographs and forms part of the Women in Arts Festival 2006 presented by Transnet Foundation in association with the City of Johannesburg's Arts Alive.

Only Half the Picture recently ran at the Michael Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town and elicited much hype. The exhibition represents candid and intimate portrayals of black lesbian lives, the bonds between lovers, the scars of hate crimes and the lifelines of "women living on the margins".

What you don't see when you look at me by Zanele Muholi 2004
As a gender and sexual activist, Muholi confronts the notion that lesbian practices are alien to African cultures and offers a radical break from stereotypical narratives about black female sexualities. Her work is without precedent in South Africa where there are few instances of black women openly portraying female same-sex practices.

Muholi's black and white images depict acts of hatred inflicted on women and her period pieces are likely to provoke much controversy. These represent myths surrounding menstruation and feature bloodstained tampons, pads and grass. The aim of the images is to offer people a chance to think differently about blackness, female forms, skins, bodies and sexualities.

Born in Umlazi, Durban, and trained at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Muholi came to national attention in 2004 with her exhibition Visual Sexuality at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

An untitled photograph in the exhibition by Zanele Muholi 2006
Muholi co-founded and works for the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organisation. She has participated in a number of conferences and exhibitions locally and internationally and her photographs have appeared in South African gay and lesbian publications.

She is the recipient of the Tollman Award and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Arts and Culture Award in 2005.

Only Half the Picture runs until 10 September 2006 at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown – Johannesburg News Agency

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