I visited Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery to see the exhibition Vukani/Rise, by Zanele Muholi, a South African photographer. The exhibition leaflet describes her:
… photographer and visual activist whose work explores gender, race and sexuality, particularly in relation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual [LGBT] South African community.
The gallery also presented video installations telling the story of some of the people in the work and of an interview with the artist explaining her work.
The exhibition comprises portraits of the LGBT community, ‘from the inside’, as Muholi explains. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate turn of phrase, referencing Susan Sontag’s inside/outside perspective, including commentary on Diane Arbus’ work, which Sontag considers voyeuristic.
Muholi wanted show her subjects with strength and dignity and give them a voice that they do have in the mainstream press. The photographs document the community and are not exploitative, showing individuals in their normal condition. While there is a huge gap in time between the work of Arbus an that of Muholi, and a corresponding shift in cultural and social perspectives, I can’t help but draw a comparison between the two photographers’ perspectives; little dignity is afforded to Arbus’s subjects, who are presented as outliers on the extremes of society, not in the context of going about their everyday lives.
Open Eye Gallery [website]. Zanele Muholi: Vukani/Rise
18 September – 29 November 2015. Available from: http://www.openeye.org.uk/main-exhibition/zanele-muholi/ [accessed 8 November 2015]
BBC [website] (2015). Zanele Muholi. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/12VHc6SJ36ySTKlCSYG1swY/pride-and-prejudice-how-zanele-muholi-documents-south-africas-lgbti-community [accessed 8 November 2015].
Diane Arbus Photography [website]. Available from: http://diane-arbus-photography.com [accessed 8 November 2015].