Artist tackles stigma of being queer and black

CONTROVERSIAL artist Zanele Muholi, whose exhibition is on at the Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, believes she has been misunderstood by people.

CONTROVERSIAL artist Zanele Muholi, whose exhibition is on at the Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town, believes she has been misunderstood by people.

A few weeks ago Muholi, a photographer, was in the headlines, with Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xingwana denouncing her work as pornographic, immoral and offensive.

Speaking to Sowetan before the opening of the exhibition, Muholi is eloquent, confident and outspoken.

She says many people fail to understand the message behind those so-called pornographic photos she exhibited.

"What I am trying to say is that there is a need for lesbians and gays to practise safe sex. Homosexuals need to be included in the HIV-Aids programme. They also need to know better methods to enjoy sex. With these pictures I am trying to open that kind of dialogue."

Muholi says from her first exhibition she has been fighting the stigmatisation of lesbians and gays. In her latest exhibition, Indawo Yami, which opened on Thursday, she continues with the topic. She says Indawo Yami, which means my place or my space continues to explore the implications of being black and queer through a range of different series and strategies.

"Being, a continuation of ongoing work, focuses on a quiet and tender celebration of love within the homosexual community, whether between mothers and sons, between lovers or between friends."

She says Indawo Yami is where she works and shares an environment with others.

"My focus is mainly on being queer in South Africa and beyond. This is the realm in which I deal with my identity, as a citizen of my country and of the world."

In these photos, Muholi says, she wants to show people that to be gay or lesbian is something that is inside you. She says in each township there are lesbians living openly, regardless of the stigma and homophobia attached to their lesbian identity, both butch and femme.

"Most of the time being lesbian is seen as negative, as destroying the nuclear heterosexual family. For many black lesbians the stigma of queer identity arises from the fact that homosexuality is seen as un-African. "

Though many do not understand Muholi's works locally, she is increasingly lauded for this work at an international level.

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