Zanele Muholi, South Africa
“Faces and Phases: Portraits from South Africa’s Lesbian Community”—The New Yorker, 5/22/12
Despite being the first country to draft a constitution that explicitly forbids discrimination based on sexuality, “hostility toward ‘difference’ has barely slackened,” she writes, “and crimes against gays, and women, have increased.” One in every two women in the country can expect to be raped at least once in her lifetime.
Such attacks have been the driving force behind the work of South African photographer and visual activist Zanele Muholi, whom we commissioned to photograph Lungile Cleopatra Dladla, a survivor of “corrective” rape and one of the subjects of Hunter-Gault’s piece. “In the face of all the challenges our community encounters daily,” Muloli told me, “I embarked on a journey of visual activism to insure that there is black queer visibility.”
Muholi had photographed Dladla already, in fact, as part of “Faces and Phases,” a series of more than two hundred portraits of South Africa’s lesbian community. “Collectively, the portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive,” Muholi explained, “marking, mapping and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.”
Muholi herself became a victim of a targeted attack last month, when the flat she lives in with her partner was broken into and over twenty of her hard drives were stolen, effectively erasing the last five years of work that Muholi has been tirelessly building. “I’m still traumatized by the burglary,” she told me. “It’s hard to fall asleep in this place, which is now a crime scene, as I dealt with many crime scenes before.”