Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness includes one hundred self-portraits created by one of the most powerful visual activists of our time. In each of the images, Muholi drafts material props from her immediate environment in an effort to reflect her journey, explore her own image and possibilities as a black woman in today’s global society, and—most important—to speak emphatically in response to contemporary and historical racisms. As she states, “I am producing this photographic document to encourage people to be brave enough to occupy spaces, brave enough to create without fear of being vilified. . . . To teach people about our history, to re-think what history is all about, to re-claim it for ourselves, to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”
More than twenty curators, poets, and authors offer written contributions that draw out the layers of meaning and possible readings to accompany select images. Powerfully arresting, this collection is as much a manifesto of resistance as it is an autobiographical, artistic statement.
From the Curator
I have been waiting for this book. Some photo books I tear through. This book stayed with me. I sat and I looked. I made tea and I read. Somnyama Ngonyama is a book about being seen. It’s about representation and agency, perception and assumptions. One hundred self-portraits that are at once both personal and political, paired with poems and written vignettes by over twenty authors, curators and poets. These photographs made me question what I thought I was, at first glance, seeing. The complexity of Muholi’s work is made even more powerful by the apparent simplicity of the photographs themselves, mirrored by the understated design of this gorgeous book. This is a book about the experience of being and the experience of seeing. It is about the monumental power of the image, as a historical record and as a catalyst for fundamental shifts in our perspective. This is a book to begin conversations. - Cig Harvey
About the Author
Zanele Muholi (born in Umlazi, South Africa, 1972) is a visual activist and photographer, cofounder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, and founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual media. Muholi has won numerous awards for her work, including the ICP Infinity Award for Documentary and Photojournalism (2016); the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International; a Prince Claus Award (2013); and both the Casa África award for best female photographer and a Fondation Blachère award at Les Rencontres de Bamako biennial of African photography (2009). Her Faces and Phases series was shown at dOCUMENTA (13) and the 55th Venice Biennale and was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2015. Muholi is an honorary professor at the University of the Arts Bremen, Germany. She is represented by Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York.