Zanele Muholi: Personae (photography gallery)

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

October 10, 2016This past weekend I attended South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s gallery opening: Personae at The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. This two part gallery, Faces and Phases and Somnyama Ngonyama is part of the Fotofocus Biennial Photography – The Undocument Series.To describe Zanele Muholi’s work as captivating is an understatement. Each and every subject on display in her Faces and Phases gallery draws you in with direct/intense eye contact. They made a powerful connection with me that made me feel as if I was somehow connected to them. This exhibit is a collection of portraits that both mourns and celebrates, that documents the resistance and losses in the South African LGBTI communities. The black and white portraits display on the white walls of The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center make a strong statement and I encourage all that can to make the trip to Cincinnati to experience the exhibit firsthand.Before Muholi took the floor to talk about her self-portrait series: Somnyama Ngonyama, meaning “Hail the Dark Lioness” in Zulu, there was a spoken word performance as well as live music and a dance interpretation of Zanele’s photographs. This personal gallery is fascinating in part due to Muholi intentionally darkening or lightening her complexion throughout images to touch on how people throughout the world tend to covet lighter skin. By embracing her own blackness Muholi displays pride in her appearance hence the title – “Hail the Dark Lioness.”
While attending the gallery I was also lucky enough to meet Atlanta based fine art photographer Shelia Pree Bright. Shelia and I have been following each other’s work on instagram for over a year now so it was definitely an added bonus to finally meet her and engage in an inspiring conversation about photography, activism, expression and the importance of shooting from the heart. You can view Shelia’s work on instagram (@shepreebright) as well as her website sheilapreebright.com.Needless to say I left The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center full of passion and inspiration. Eager and excited to not only capture images but to also capture people’s imagination and attention. Committed to help tell people’s story through images that gives their struggle a voice.