Zanele Muholi and those photos

#189. Chip in on the photographs that caused all the trouble with Lulu Xingwana, the Minister of Arts and Culture. If you missed this story you will need to read all about it on Times Live “Minister slams ‘porn’ exhibition”. The short version is that the Minister who was to open an exhibition that included Muholi’s work at Constitution Hill slammed the artist and her work and then walked out. A statement released after the event had the minister saying: “Our mandate is to promote social cohesion and nation building. I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this.” She called Muholi’s photographs depicting lesbian relationships “immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.”

Today I read a great interview with Muholi which was published by online mag Mahala called ‘Return of the Censors’ in which she commented when asked about her work saying: “Dealing with lesbian rape, with photography depicting it, it can make you scared… I cannot say I am living to shock people. I am living to expose, obviously, and also to educate. Sales, or no sales, it doesn’t matter to me – it has to be done.”

Muholi’s work is controversial. It’s bold and confrontational but then the issues she grapples with are anything but polite – the rape of black lesbians to “teach” them to be straight, gender inequality and violence against women. Issues that confront us daily in newspaper headlines and many of the stories don’t make it into print because this behaviour is so commonplace. A few days ago I met a man from Brazil who told me they have no word for “rape” in their country. I have heard people say this before. Sadly we cannot say the same.

This idea of what builds a nation has been on my mind, so too has the steadily increasing dialogue about respect for “culture” – such a loaded word. It has come up over Jacob Zuma’s visit to the UK and his racist vilification by the British press. And I have been thinking how do you go about not purposely trying to offend while finding place for your own “culture”. [As for the UK’s Daily Mail – racism is far from a cultured response so any attempts to prove how much more ‘civilised’ the British are were thwarted from the start].

But as respectful as one can be about other cultures the line must be drawn somewhere and I draw it at “cultures” that promote gender or racial inequality. How about you?

One thought on “Zanele Muholi and those photos

  1. Thanks for this blog.
    I find it so uncredibly sad and depressing that our Minister of Arts and Culture has no understanding a) what art and its function is and b) what pornpgaphy actually is. The censorship that we fought so hard to “undo” during the apartheid era is in action currently across all media from TV (remember the Thabo Mbeki doccie that was pulled from broadcast?) through to SABC news and now they(such as Xingwana) will also try and censor the expression of artists in our country. The only good thing here is that her words will expose her as not being fit to run this department and make people engage about what art really is.

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