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Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness | A Solo Exhibition by Zanele Muholi

18 May - 15 August



Pearl Lam Galleries is delighted to present Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness), a solo exhibition by South Africa-based artist Zanele Muholi in collaboration with Muholi Arts Project (BaMu).

Zanele Muholi is a Durban-based photographer. They first studied Advanced Photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newton, Johannesburg and completed their Master’s Degree in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada in 2009.

Presented as a photographic archive in the gallery is a collection of self-portraits from the Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) series that the artist has been working on since 2012. These autobiographic and highly personal portraits express in the artist’s own words: “the journey, self-image, and possibilities of a black person in today’s global society,” As a footnote, one of the photographs, Bester II, on display is in honour of Muholi’s late mother, Bester Muholi, who worked as a domestic worker and experienced a lot of hardship during apartheid. A selection of paintings and beadwork related to the photographs will also be on view to provide a broader perspective for understanding Muholi’s multifaceted art practice.

The exhibition features over fifty staged photographs of Muholi’s portraits with the photographer taking on a dualistic role of subject and participant. Besides their variety of poses and costumes, Muholi also utilizes daily objects drawn from their immediate environment. As a long-time photographer, Muholi has always observed how different people present themselves in front of the camera. In their Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness) series, the artist invites the viewer to probe the power relations and voyeurism amongst the subject, the photographer, and the beholder. This series speaks to the politics of representation and black pride. Muholi believes that each entity is entitled to his/her/their right of representation and to be proud of who they are, as they assert, they need “for this black face to be recognized as belonging to a sensible, thinking being in their own right.”


Zanele Muholi is a visual activist and photographer. Born in Umlazi, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, they work from Durban and Johannesburg. Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is “to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond.” Muholi co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002, and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual activist media. They continue to train and co-facilitate photography workshops for young women in the townships and run the Art Sessions for Youth development programme around KwaZulu-Natal.


18 May
15 August
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Pearl Lam Galleries

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