In partnership with Autograph, London, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art presented the United States premiere of Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness. In this internationally acclaimed exhibition featuring more than seventy photographs, visual activist Muholi — whose whose pronouns are they, them, and theirs — uses their body as a canvas to confront the politics of race and representation in the visual archive. Muholi’s psychologically charged portraits are unapologetic in their directness as they explore different archetypes, personal and collective histories, contemporary politics, and global events. Somnyama Ngonyama employs the conventions of classical painting, fashion photography, and the familiar tropes of ethnographic imagery to critically rearticulate contemporary identity politics. By increasing the contrast in the dark complexion of their skin, Muholi interrogates complex representations of beauty, pride, and desire. Gazing defiantly at the camera, Muholi challenges the viewer’s perceptions while firmly asserting their cultural identity on their own terms.
Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness is organized by Autograph, London, and curated by Renée Mussai.