Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness

by Zanele Muholi

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Jul 2019 – Nov 2019

Somnyama Ngonyama, Zulu for Hail the Dark Lioness, is a photographic series by the South African visual activist Zanele Muholi (b. 1972). In the artist’s words, the series invites the viewer on “a discomforting self-defining journey, rethinking the culture of self-representation and self-expression.

Taken in Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa between 2014 and 2017, each portrait is distinct and poses critical questions about social injustice, human rights, and contested representations of the black body. Muholi skillfully employs conventions of classical portraiture and fashion photography and mixes in tropes of ethnographic imagery to establish different archetypes and personae. A meaningful name for each of the 76 portraits is given in isiZulu, the first language of the artist who now lives in Johannesburg.

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