Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail The Dark Lioness
The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens is proud to present Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail The Dark Lioness, an internationally touring exhibition organized by Autograph, London and curated by Renée Mussai. The Cummer Museum will be the final venue for this exhibition in the United States.
In more than 80 self-portraits, celebrated visual activist Zanele Muholi (South African, b. 1972) uses their body as a canvas to confront the deeply personal politics of race and representation in the visual archive. Their ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama, which translates to ‘Hail The Dark Lioness’ from isiZulu, one of the official languages of South Africa, playfully employs the conventions of classical painting, fashion photography and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to rearticulate contemporary identity politics. Each black and white self-portrait asks critical questions about social (in)justice, human rights and contested representations of the Black body.
The exhibition features photographs taken between 2012 – 2019 in cities across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa. Muholi’s socially-engaged, radical brand of self-portraiture transforms found objects and quotidian materials into dramatic and historically loaded props, merging the political with the personal, aesthetics with history — often commenting on specific events in South Africa’s past, as well as urgent global concerns pertinent to our present times: scouring pads and latex gloves address themes of domestic servitude while alluding to sexual politics, cultural violence and the often-suffocating prisms of gendered identities. Rubber tires, cable ties or electrical cords invoke forms of social brutality and exploitation; sheets of plastic and polythene draw attention to environmental issues and global waste, while accessories like cowrie shells and beaded fly whisks highlight Western fascinations with clichéd, exoticized representations of African cultures and people.
Image credit: Bester I, Mayotte, 2015 © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.