The series Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail to the Dark Lioness by the South African photographer Zanele Muholi consists of 365 protest photographs, one for each day of the year, wherein she challenges stereotypes of black identity, queer identity, and the position of black women. The title of each photograph refers to the place where she’s taken them, and their number to the experience of being black all year round. Muholi, who calls herself a visual activist rather than an artist, made this series to fight stereotypes and racism.
Each photograph is a self-portrait wherein the personal and the political unite, as Muholi addresses events from history, as well as her personal experience as a black, lesbian woman. Everyday objects are transformed into hairpieces, costumes or a theatrical setting, such as sponges, clothespins, money, a miner’s lamp, and hat. Playing with the gaze of both herself and the viewer, Muholi positions herself at times in an almost sculptural way, while at other times, she looks the viewer straight in the eye.
Somnyama Ngonyama has been exhibited around the world, from the Venice Biennale to the Tate Modern. But it is on social media that Muholi expands her activism to a wider audience than only the art world. During the Black Lives Matter protests, she has been posting new portraits. In one portrait, she has an electricity cable around her neck. #action #choking #suffocation #enough