Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- The subject, identified in the title as Amanda Mapuma, stands in front of a gray background and wears a dark-colored jacket with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a white shirt and bow tie. They confront the viewer with a slightly downturned yet confident gaze. The image is black and white.
- Zanele Muholi began their Faces and Phases series in 2006 to increase LGBTI (particularly lesbian) visual representation across South Africa, especially of victims of violence and sexual assault. Muholi seeks to increase the visibility of lesbians in South African visual culture to prevent such violence in the future.
- Many of the subjects of Faces and Phases lock eyes with the camera, displaying various identities, circumstances, and reactions to being photographed. As a widely acclaimed LGBTI artist making images of South African lesbians, Muholi gives LGBTI South Africans a sense of both individuality and community.
An ardent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) “visual activist,” Muholi uses photography to document and challenge the discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTI community in South Africa. These portraits are part of Muholi’s ongoing series Faces and Phases in which Muholi presents positive images of South Africa’s LGBTI community in order to confront social assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices. “The photos leave you with the sense that these are people who simply want to be seen,” says one critic, “to have their life entered into the record.”
Muholi takes portraits in black and white as a reference to a long line of documentary photography, including Seydou Keita‘s studio portraits in Mali in the 1940s and 1950s as well as images by Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Alec Soth, and others. Their subjects, like Muholi’s, look straight at the camera: openly, defiantly, shyly, proudly.
tags: identity, perception, power, subjectivity, survival
“The black face and its details become the focal point, forcing the viewer to question their desire to gaze at images of my black figure. By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other.”
Resources for Teachers:
- Watch a documentary clip about Muholi’s visual activism. (Teachers: please preview this resource prior to sharing with your class.)
- Learn more about how to respond to concerns about teaching about gender.
Resources for Students: