9 – Black Lesbian Visibility, Visual Activism & Community

These images are by photographer Zanele Muholi, she is a described as a South African photographer and visual activist. She mainly works capturing South African lesbian women and hopes to create these images as a showcase for future generations to see what they went through. I found that this linked in a similar way to the idea of The Watermelon Woman as Cheryl, both in the internal narrative of the film and in why the film was made in the first place, tries to draw attention to a forgotten (or purposely excluded) part of history and shed light on the lives of these people.

The photographs show a lot of intimacy. The photos I have included in particular, whether posed or candid show the love and care between these women. The way in which they are all touching throughout the images, and not in a more ‘typical’ way, such as holding hands or kissing, shows more passion and intensity. And even in the image below wherein the women are kissing, this still works as an image that shows this defiance and fighting back against discrimination in a beautiful way. This goes hand in hand with the way in which Muholi states that she wants to show the ways in which these relationships still happened despite the very dangerous threats to their lives and hate crimes surrounding them in South Africa. This knowledge of social/cultural context brings more of a sadness and longing into the images, as the viewer is made aware of the situation in which they have to live and their bravery for publicly showing their love for one another. It has been said that these images show the ‘forbidden intimacy’ between black lesbian women and that these images are a defiance toward ‘those who would erase or destroy Black women’s same sex sexuality.’ (Article Link)

This is the first time I have come across the term ‘visual activist’ but I think its a great term to describe what these visual artists do, it could be applied to Cheryl in The Watermelon Woman and definitely makes sense to label Muholi as one. Activism and visual media are intertwined so greatly and works such as this that are both beautiful in their visual and artistic creation and make a statement and provoke aspects of political and social activism are so important in this fight to make sure no more people or groups of people are excluded from our history books and no one is oblivious to the dangers and difficulties people are facing across the world.

In April 2012 Muholi’s flat in Vredehoek in Cape Town, South Africa was robbed. Over 20 primary back-up hard drives containing photographs from the last 5 years of her work, along with her laptop, were stolen. Little else was taken during this robbery making it clear that it was likely motivated by the wish to have or destroy these images. This is a very sad but not all that surprising fact, as with the discrimination and violence directed toward South African lesbian women and black lesbian or transgender women in general it is no wonder someone wished to destroy the evidence of both beautiful happy and healthy relationships of South African lesbian women and images of the funerals of people subject to the hate crimes themselves.

Muholi states she stated this project to ‘to ensure that there is black lesbian visibility, to showcase our existence and resistance in this democratic society, to present a positive imagery of black lesbians.’ (Article Link). And she has been seen to move many people by doing so. After the robbery in 2012 an indiegogo campaign started by Palm Wine, a new Nigerian LGBT community group raised over $9000 for her to replace the equipment that was stolen. This show of support exemplifies the way in which a community can come together over the importance of the documentation of their own lives and history and showcases the power of these images and the beauty, activism and hope that is a part of them.



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