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A Review of Zanele Muholi’s Isibonelo/Evidence Exhibit

The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art within the Brooklyn Museum is currently home to Zanele Muholi’s Isibonelo/Evidence exhibit. Muholi combines her work in photography, video, and installation to bring attention to the issue of hate and brutality toward the global LGBTQ community. Muholi makes a cry for improved social justice concerning the LGBTQ community in her homeland of South Africa. The message of her work, however, reaches far beyond the borders of that region. It extends to LGBTQ people around the world, their families, their friends, and those who hope for a world that will respect people of all orientations.

Muholi’s exhibit includes a timeline, a portrait series called Faces and Phases, a collection of victims’ statements, and different kinds of photographs and videos. In her timeline, Muholi documents the brutal hate crimes committed against members of the South African LGBTQ community. For over five years, Muholi records stabbings, shootings, “curative” rapes, and tortures. The details included in each event description sent shivers down my spine, as did the portrait series and the collection of the victims’ statements.

The portraits of the black lesbian and transgender community are displayed in between the timeline of hate crimes and statements from the victims of those crimes and discrimination. The portraits are captured in black and white. Each subject radiates strength or sadness in its highest degrees. I stood before these portraits and could only imagine what hell these people have been through. Then, I turned to my left and it all became clear. 

Across the space from the timeline and to the left of the portraits, a wall is erected to display the stories of the victims… “I’ve been told that I am violating the tradition. People would say, ‘It’s not our tradition to be like this. You should be with men. At this stage, why don’t you have children? What are you not with a man?’” “They tell me that they will kill me, they will rape me, and after raping me I will become a girl. I will become a straight girl.” “She was only 19 when they stoned her to death in her township Khayelitsha. Her name was Zoliswa Nkonyana.” The stories brought me to tears in a crowd of strangers.

In regard to Muholi’s other photographs and videos, they were unlike the timeline, portraits, and the victims’ stories. The photographs were joyful, bright, and colorful. Muholi began her Wedding series in 2013 to document the same-sex unions of her friends. The series includes exciting group shots, beautiful wedding apparel, and décor. It also includes video footage of a same-sex couple expressing their love and joining together in a marriage ceremony. Outside of the Wedding series, Muholi’s exhibit also includes a video of she and her partner making love. While the image in the video is not vivid, the sounds make it more than clear that Muholi and her partner are lost in their intimacy. Her installation art is more depressing as it reveals the sad truth about the wellbeing of the black lesbian and transgender community in South Africa. It even includes a glass coffin adorned with flowers.

I cannot say enough about Muholi’s exhibit and her ability to convey the message for improved social justice. Her exhibit moved me in a way that I’ve never before experienced. I would recommend this exhibit to anyone and everyone who is interested in the improvement of social justice, especially within the LGBTQ community. 

Shoreline Bum. Writer. Artist. Future Lawyer. Connecticut Girl with a Big City State of Mind.
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