Oracle 16012022 – eyes on the main prize

The oracle this week is about priorities and planning, which goes very well with my own purpose of the year. A creative person finds herself tempted by many paths, opportunities and projects, all fantastic and exciting but as our main … Continue reading

09012022-Oracle

This beginning of the year is flying! Perhaps because as artist educator this is a busy period of marking and deadlines. But what I feel is that although is a new page, for the first time I am not “having … Continue reading

Zanele Muholi: Activismo visual, identidad y resistencia

La obra de Zanele Muholi debe describirse como Activismo Visual, y es un testimonio de las atrocidades del racismo, los crímenes de la heteronormatividad y la necesidad de romper con visiones heredadas del colonialismo: imagines y narrativas tan incrustadas en … Continue reading

Zanele Muholi: Identity and Resistance

Although I had thought not to hurry back to London, the lure of the opening of the galleries was too much to resist, moreoever, when there is so much offer. I decided for Zanele Muholi, not knowing really what they were about, only that the poster intrigued me. A black head crowned with afrocombs, signalling the hair as a place of resistence.

The work of Zanele Muholi is best described as Visual Activism, bearing witness of the atrocities of racism, the crimes of heteronormativity, and the need to break with colonial visions, images and narratives so embedded in contemporary times. The artist prefers the pronoun “they/them/theirs” and their work is a roller coaster of images, questions and emotions, exploring the identities of black LGBTQIA living in South Africa and beyond. Their images takes us from intimate moments of love and tenderness, the fragility of being who you want to be, in a culture where “corrective rape” is rampant, and poverty remains unresolved. The artist questions the images of African Women appropriated by colonialism and reproduced in the media, “reproducing heterosexuality and white patriarchy” and such systems of power are shattered with images that are not the norm.

I went with my dear friend Carmen Lamberti, and I am glad we came together, because this was an opportunity to talk about our own identity as Latina Women, mestizas, descendants of African slaves and discriminated indigenous communities. The exhibition nudges the spectator to explore what is our identity, how we want to represent ourselves, what are the filters we use in social media, what is behind of such manipulation of images. And this is a political question of course. For example, in Colombia, being called “an indian” is an insult, and the response to the social movilization of indigenous communities have been received by the elites as an offense to “la gente de bien” (people of good), which shows the profound scars of our societies, and the fear of being questioned or faced with our own demons of discrimination and segregation.

The irony is that in Colombia we all look quite similar, brownish, shortish, smilish. The process of mestizaje and interracial marriages was so quick that in two generations there were so many skin tones that the “distinction” is be given not only by the skin colour (hue) but other social signifiers (education, social class and also europeanized facial features). We have been told that we need to iron our hair, to make it acceptable, and the “bad hair” is an expression so embedded in our culture, that is not even questioned. While seeing the images of Zanele Muholi highlighting the very special beauty of people, with their skin colour, their identity options, their gender performativities, opened a door for the diversity and fluidity of the notion of beauty.

Central to the artist work is activism, compassion, collaboration and skill sharing. They document public events such as marches, funerals and protests, with such compassion, care, respect and emotions, that resist any attempt at “erasing” them. The central room of this extensive exhibition is filled with the series Faces and Phases: including numerous portraits, strong images of strong and beautiful personas in different faces and phases of their lives. The trust and intimacy between the artist and their subject is palpable, and one feels honored to be invited to such dialogue. Part of the beauty of the curation of this room particularly, is the fact that the rows of portraits also show gaps, empty spaces, highlighting the vulnerability of asserting one’s identity in the heteronormative tyranny. The testimonials accompanying the portraits are so powerful, and add an very real layer, the stories that are people, bringing us closer to them.

Throughout the exhibition the artist reflect on their own language, another colonial tool, and turn the camera to themself, establishing a relationship between the artist and their surroundings, owning the representation of black people, and indeed, accentuating their blackness as an aesthetic option, and a political one. The titles of the works in the series are in isiZulu, Muholi’s first language: “It encourages a Western audience ot understand and pronounce the names. This critiques what happened during colonialism and apartheid. then, Black people were often given english names by their employers or teachers who refused to remember of pronounce their real names.” (Tate Modern Catalogue)

This, sadly, is also a very usual practice in higher education in the United Kingdom, and many international students adopt ‘english names’ and I confess it makes uncomfortable, because my own name is so mispronounced that I think I must make an effort and be respectful of those many Others. The exhibition really provides a space for questioning and also marvelling and being moved, by the beauty of human being and the art of photography, and also pushes us to rethink those images that we take for granted, and seeing them with enlightened/awake eyes.

Colombian Spring: Faith, Terror and beauty

While visiting Colombia the writer Jorge Luis Borges once said that “being Colombian is an act of faith”. A good phrase describing our identity as Colombians.  Oscillating between faith and despair, being Colombian means that you somehow have accepted the … Continue reading

Reclaiming Beauty (2): What can we learn from a Feminist Aesthetics?

In a previous blog I spoke about the realisation of the maleness of the history of aesthetics, the scarce or even absent consideration of gender issues or even thinkers/women in the discussion of aesthetics. Drawing upon the question of “Why … Continue reading