In her book Faces and Phases (first reviewed by DIVA in February
2011) Zanele Muholi starts with a quote from documentary
maker Joan E Biren which states: "Without a visual identity we have
no community, no support network, no movement. Making ourselves
visible is a continual process."
The portraits that follow illustrate this point, revealing some
of the brave, out, black members of South Africa's lesbian
community. At present there is no anti hate crime legislation in
South Africa and yet tragically the lesbian community suffers some
of the country's most brutal attacks through 'corrective' or
Before Muholi, the most common images of SA's black lesbians to
appear on the news pages of queer and mainstream British websites
were the bruised faces of these cruelly betrayed lesbians. Always a
shocking reminder of the rights that have so desperately to be
granted to our sisters in Southern Africa, they should not be
considered as the only image of the native lesbian community.
In both her book and her documentary Difficult Love, shown as a
double bill with Possessed by Demons directed by Nokuthula Dhlabhia
at Amnesty International and curated by Autograph ABP, Muholi
projects a powerful and brave message about what it's like to be a
queer woman in 21st century South Africa.
Interviewing friends and fellow travellers about their lives she
presents a much richer picture than that shown through the British
news channels. There's the model and fashion designer who is hoping
to have a baby with her partner, there's the couple who were thrown
out of the homeless shelter when officers learned of their
homosexuality, the lesbian pastor who has been accused of being
demonic by those in her parish who object to her being gay. Then
there's the proud butch who lives with her family in a rural area
and who has happily been welcomed by her local community.
Celebrated by art critics and curators alike, Muholi claims she
is driven to engage in a journey of visual activism by presenting
the lives of the brave women who "exist and resist through the
positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South
African society and beyond". More than that, it presents us
with a moving and warm portrait of the artist herself: real, raw,
and producing everything, every photograph, every frame of her film
straight from the heart.
Like Faces and Phases, Difficult Love is an insider's
perspective that is movingly revealing and essential viewing for
anyone who wants to understand and learn more about queer women and
culture in Southern Africa.