This monumental self-portrait, part of an extensive series, is typical of how the South African artist challenges how the Black body is traditionally imagined. Steven Nelson is co-curator of this exhibition.
The series places the Black figure in the position that we would have seen white figures in classic portraiture and in classic painting. And in that way, it’s a reclamation of what I think of as an unapologetic blackness. The work gains its power in a politics of representation of Black figures that show their humanity, but they don’t give it to us. They show their power, but they don’t give that to us either.
Here Muholi assumes the pose of Liberty.
The scale amplifies the power of the figure. It is far larger than life. It’s almost a billboard. And…in terms of presence in the gallery, it completely dwarfs the viewer. We are very small in front of this very, very large image.
In many of the photos in the series, the artist looks directly at us. In this one, they look a bit away as if to not acknowledge our presence. But it’s confrontational and it’s direct, and it really sort of insists on the artist’s imaging of themselves as Black and queer.
Artist, Zanele Muholi.
Why are Black lives so fascinating? Why are we here? Why are ordinary people only featured in any magazines when there is tragedy? Why are there no images of queer people and especially Black people and yet people are told you have the right to be? I just wanted to produce images that spoke to me as a person, that still speak to me now. I'm boiling inside. Like any other great man, I want to be counted in history. I want to produce that history. I want to basically say: this is me.