per l’Arte


Zanele Muholi
“Nobody can love you more than you”

Tosetti Value, thanks to its fruitful cooperation with Galleria del Cembalo, is pleased to present the exhibition
“Nobody can love you more than you”, a selection of works from the project “Somnyama Ngonyama”

Somnyama Ngonyama, (“Hail, the Dark Lioness” in Zulu), is the title of the project by Zanele Muholi, the South African visual activist strongly committed to fighting against racial and gender stereotypes. The artist experiments with different characters and archetypes drawing on the performative and expressive language of the theatre. By exaggerating the darkness of her skin tone and sometimes lightening her lips the artist is reclaiming her blackness, which she feels is continuously performed by the privileged other. The black face and its details become the focal point.

Within the idea of self-representation many forces coexist, which are yet often contraryand controversial.

When looking at these self-portraits for quite a long time, many sensations and interpretative levels will strike you, sometimes very different from each other.
First of all, a strongly human level comes out, leading us to a place where it is impossible to avoid the question that almost all of us have to face at many moments of our lives: “Where do I stand?”. When trying to answer this first question looking into Zanele’s eyes, and having to face the reflection of the artist’s black splendour, many of us might quickly look away. Being in front of any of these photographs is therefore first of all an individual exercise of self-evaluation and deep analysis that, in the end, leaves a disturbing sensation, an uncomfortable sense of uneasiness towards an artist who has posed naked in front of the camera, going beyond any private dimension.

As a second phase, as if we were part of an asynchronous tide, the most logical and rational level of awareness comes into our consciousness, which deals with the reasons underpinning this individual and unnegotiable sacrifice. In order to understand it, we must ask ourselves how a minority feels about living their own daily life, under both a physical and a cognitive perspective. This requires a great effort for an Italian citizen who is so far away from the concept of minorities in society. What could probably help us in this task is a quote from Zanele Muholi, “You live as a black person for 365 days“, a hard concept in the society of the “International Day of” and social network-based charity campaigns.

Black people only cross our mind (“black” used in this case to mean any minority, whether ethnic, gender, religious or civil) when we hear about them on the news, regardless of whether they are slaughtered in African communities or even in the “highly evolved” United States of America, and we commemorate them only for a day or so. It is far more complicated to remember, following public mourning, that they will continue to be victims of discrimination for the remaining 364 days. This is why these self-portraits go beyond their physical space of a few square centimetres. They bring us to a purely ideal one that seems to turn them into actual manifestos and living places for many people – not only for Zanele – where they can be seen, respected and, above all, recognised.

Finally, there is the photograph as it appears to us, portraying a woman with a blanket on her head, with clothes pins and other more or less homemade and familiar trinkets, signs and symbols used to compose the artist’s visual rosary. Some of them, as the artist’s words suggest, recall specific moments belonging to the history of the community, such as the image in which Zanele wears a miner’s hat and protective glasses with a shocked expression on her face to remember the Marikana massacre of 2012, in which 34 miners on strike were killed by the police. Other elements may be suggestions which, when projected into our eyes, open uncontrolled doors, depending on how that slender element can be stratified in our contemporary cultural background. For example, a veil wrapped around the head, hangers, strips of scotch. All these elements build up a sort of emotional mechanism whose ripples, like those from a stone thrown into a pond, inevitably reach our inner world.

A project by Tosetti Value per l’Arte in cooperation with the Galleria del Cembalo

Bhekani, Mayotte, 2016 - 9978OP
@Zanele Muholi, Courtesy Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg - Galleria del Cembalo, Roma
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Exhibition catalogue