#NAEArchiveGallery – Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail The Dark Lioness

Welcome to the #NAEArchiveGallery where members of the team will be sharing their favourite exhibitions from our archive!


Our Public Programmes Coordinator Jade chose ‘Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail The Dark Lioness’.

Before I began to immerse myself within their work, I read the exhibition text with a quote by Zanele Muholi stating “I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged ‘other’. My reality is that I do not mimic being black; it is my skin, and the experience of being black is deeply entrenched in me. Just like our ancestors, we live as black people 365 days a year, and we should speak without fear.”

When entering, I instantly felt the exhibition was an unapologetic display of Blackness. A variety of depictions of Muholi plastered all over black and white walls. Within this collection of over 75 portraits, two pieces are being exhibited for the first time as well as an autobiographical video installation. Every one of those 75 portraits are not a depiction of Zanele’s personality but versions of themselves as the artist, performer, and the protagonist.

Not all images display a stern and unwavering physical strength shown through the piercing eyes and posture. Some of the photos adopt a radical softness that is usually not generally associated with concepts of radical feminism among the masses. Muholi subverts the idea that gentleness and showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Expressed through their sensuality, there is a fierceness, strength, and bravery around the way they display their vulnerability.

The artist in my opinion renegotiates censorship, adopting a body positive stance when queer black bodies are mostly made invisible and shamed even within black communities. This is a nuanced form of visual activism equally as radical and efficacious.

This exhibition intended to reaffirm and assert that QTIBPoC (Queer, Trans, Intersex Black/People of Colour) going to see it can find power in their non-western beauty.

Within this exhibition not only is Muholi exploring a discerning depiction of self but exploring both the potential of radical vulnerability and the strength in a firm powerful subversive gaze. We are embraced with symbolism and strong political messages that linger in our consciousness long after we leave the gallery.

Find out more about the exhibition in our archive here.

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