ZAM Reporter

Special Discount | Somnyama Ngonyama. Hail the Dark Lioness, the book

Friends of ZAM get a 10% discount on Zanele Muholi’s new book.

It’s a “performative conversation with apartheid’s racist imagery”, Neelika Jayawardane, associate professor of English at the State University of New York and honorary research associate at the Centre of Indian Studies in Africa at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, writes in an essay published in Zanele Muholi’s new photobook. This conversation, she continues, is ”assisted by the photographic technologies that have historically aided and supported racist belief systems, (because) apartheid intended to diminish the subjectivity of black South Africans”. (…) The Polaroid ID-2 camera had a ‘boost’ button to increase the strength of its flash”. Apartheid photography was instrumental to the creation of a black identity, that was fixed, flat, and stultified, Jayawardane observes. She concludes that Muholi’s self-portraits, brought together in this phenomenal book, “will terrify those who are used to an old order, in which the powerful viewer is the sole producer of the gaze, reducing the black subject in the photograph to an object.”

There is only one way to experience the correctness of Jayawardanes remarks: get the book and browse through it. Meet Zanele Muholi, the photographer, the South African, the queer ‘visual activist’. The many personas in as many images are ‘performative theatrical’, as Jayawardane writes, but in no way “a simple narrative to document an ‘authentic’ Zanele Muholi”.

How does that look like? We will not tell you, look for yourself and carefully build an understanding of “the very stereotyped versions of blackness in which viewers have positioned her and black women in general, historically as well as in the present.”

Jayawardane continues: “Self-portraiture offers Muholi the opportunity to bleed herself of centuries of poison, as well as nourish herself with laughter, while defining herself on her own terms”. (…) “In many of those self-portraits, Muholi clowns around semiseriously, poking fun at the global (read: white) fascination with African kitch’. And: ‘She is laughing at the rest of the world for seeing Africa as a monolithic place stuck in time, trapped in an idyllic, noble-savage past, clothed in the costumery in which Europeans and North Americans are comfortably imagining Africans’.

Muholi talks about Somnyama Ngonyama here.

The price of the book is 75 euro. Friends of ZAM pay 67.50 euro. You can get your copy at our partner PhotoQ bookshop, Wijdesteeg 3A in Amsterdam or at its online store. You need to add discount code: ZAM-Zanele (until 31 December, 2018).

The book is published by Aperture.

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